Policy discourses on migration control in the United Kingdom, especially irregular migration, had a relatively straightforward main message up until the early 2000s: get it under control! Legislative developments can be traced back in UK history, and show that hardly any legislation restricting migration was in place until the 1960s and early 1970s. Historically, the UK hardly regulated migration flows from its colonies. Instead, the UK’s primary goal was to maintain the British Empire (Joppke 1998).
To explain how the UK policy regime, and that in so many other ‘affluent’ countries, has ended up with today’s paradigm of restriction and control, I have argued in my recent book that three hegemonic shifts in policy discourses are in part responsible. These shifts took place between the early 1970s and the beginning of the 21st century, and laid the foundation for the current policy situation. A conceptual shift of urgency, necessity, and speed occurred, demonizing certain categories of migrants, along with an earlier than expected shift of securitization (Vollmer 2014).
Vollmer, B. 'Tough but Humane? The Hypocrisy of Migration Control in the UK and Beyond,' in Framing Migration: Rhetoric and Reality in Europe, Reviews & Critical Commentary (CritCom), 2 December 2015.