The UK has long been identified as a country of ‘civic’ rather than ‘ethnic’ nationalism, where membership of the nation is defined as political rather than ethnic. The reasons for this have been traced back to the development of the state, and also the British Empire which ruled territories and people as British subjects (Shulman 2002). However, not all subjects of the British Empire were equal to one another.
MacDonald has cogently argued that ‘the Aliens Act 1905 was not merely born out of an enormous anti-Jewish agitation. It also came in the wake of half a century of agitation for the strictest control of non-white immigration throughout the self-governing part of the Commonwealth’ (MacDonald 2010).
There continues to be a complex relation between immigration, citizenship and ‘race’ that is an important component of public debate. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, warned for example ‘Migration threatens the very ethos or DNA of our nation’ (Times, January 7 2010). However, one of the fundamental principles of liberal citizenship is that all citizens are formally equal to each other.
This is the case whether citizenship is acquired by naturalisation or by registration (‘by birth’).
Notably ‘migrant’ in the UK is generally officially defined as being ‘foreign born’ and so British citizens by naturalisation continue to count as ‘migrants’; their impact on labour market and costs to welfare state etc are presented accordingly (Anderson and Blinder, 2011). Of course there are many axes of inequality between citizens (by ethnicity, gender, physical and mental disability, income and so on); if there were not there would be no call for anti-discrimination legislation and practices.
This is complicated for non-EEA foreign-bornmigrants (who may also be subject to other forms of discrimination of course) by the fact that, until they obtain settlement, employers are obliged to treat them differently (which some might equate to ‘discrimination’) on the grounds of their nationality.