Britain in the 20th century

World War Two was a major factor in increased migration to Britain from former parts of the Empire as was Britain's later membership of the European Union (UN).

  • India was granted independence in 1947 and many African and Caribbean nations followed in the 1950s and 60s. Many people in these countries had strong connections to Britain and chose to settle and work there.
  • Many Caribbean migrants came to work in Britain’s public sector almost immediately after World War Two to make up for severe labour shortages. While people from the New Commonwealth group of nations began to settle in Britain in greater numbers in the 1960s.
  • Britain’s decline as a world power encouraged greater cooperation with European nations, leading to Britain joining the European Common Market in 1973.
  • The free movement of people throughout the European Union led to surges in migration. Many came from countries like Poland and Hungary that had formerly been communist nations but had joined the EU in 2004.

The European Union

The British government applied to take Britain into the European Common Market several times in the 1960s, but France always blocked the idea. Eventually, in 1973, the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath was successful in negotiating British membership. The Common Market was initially focused on trade in goods and agriculture.

  • By 1992 the integration of the member countries into the European Union was achieved. This meant that citizens of the member states could travel freely to work and study within the EU without any restriction.
  • This did not cause major flows of migration in the first ten years or so, but in 2004 the EU expanded significantly with the entry of eight states in Eastern Europe and migration did increase.

Eastern Europe had been part of the communist bloc in the Cold War years after 1945, and there was almost no communication or movement of people between West and East for nearly fifty years. At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc collapsed, and the armed division of Europe came to an end.

In 2004 ten Eastern European countries, including Poland, joined the EU and migrants were able to travel to Britain and work. In 2007 Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the EU and many of their citizens also migrated to Britain.

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