A family of West Indian immigrants arrive to Britain Evening Standard/Getty Images

Populism Bites Back

Political posturing is often expedient. But British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is now being reminded daily of the far-reaching consequences of staking out positions that lack any meaningful regard for the future.

LONDON – This spring, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government is being reminded of just how powerful – and long-lasting – the unintended consequences of policies can be. Two problems concerning the United Kingdom’s borders – one relating to immigration, the other linked to the frontier with the Republic of Ireland – have lately erupted. While they have not yet weakened support for the government, they probably will. And they are almost certain to diminish what is left of Britain’s soft power.

The immigration problem goes back some seven decades, to the arrival of the first waves of Caribbean immigrants in the UK. They had been invited by the government in the wake of World War II to help offset a labor shortage, taking hard-to-fill jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) and other sectors.

Named “the Windrush generation,” after the first ship that brought them, these immigrants entered the UK on their original passports. As citizens of British colonies, they were legally regarded as citizens of the UK as well. Thus, they did not need to take additional steps to acquire specifically UK citizenship; nor did their children, whose arrival was recorded only on paper landing cards.

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