There is a lot of things this government has done to surprise me in terms of sheer immorality and reckless abandon for humanity. Forcing people who require live-in carers out of their homes in the name of the Bedroom Tax, squeezing living standards to the point where nurses rely on foodbanks and parents skip meals in order to feed their children, triggering a rise in suicides through gruelling fit-to-work assessments for vulnerable and disabled people, all the while fighting international court cases to defend bankers’ bonuses, slashing taxes for the super-rich and turning a blind-eye to corporate tax avoidance. But the Windrush scandal that has finally received the spotlight of Parliament this week, truly epitomises the morally repugnant force that is this Tory government, and it should be the scandal that finally brings the Prime Minister and her cronies down to their knees.
The context behind this Windrush scandal is important. After WW2, Britain was in ruins. It was financially crushed, and its public services in tatters. The government ambitiously underwent the boldest rebuilding project of recent memory. In terms of infrastructure, transport, and education for example, we rebuilt our public services, and largely relied on people from the colonies – many from the Caribbean – who were granted citizenship under the British Nationality Act of 1948, to do so. This generation were partly responsible for building up our most treasured national institution; the NHS, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Many of them, naturally, brought children – children who have grown up in Britain, were schooled in Britain, have worked in Britain, have paid into the British tax system, and are now raising their own families in Britain.
This government is turning its back on them. This could well be the most morally reprehensible aspect of our immigration system since the deplorable ‘Go Home’ vans. As pointed out by Stephen Bush in the New Statesman this Prime Minister was Home Secretary overseeing said vans, and there is a consistent narrative now growing regarding the inherent racism in May’s immigration policies. Abandoning the Windrush generation takes immigration injustice to a whole new level.
The origins of the term Windrush was the ship HMT Empire Windrush which brought a group of 492 migrants from Kingston, Jamaica to the port of Tilbury, after British advertisements in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport to come and work in the UK. That’s right – ‘Great’ Britain was openly inviting immigration. The war efforts had meant there were major shortages in the labour market that required filling.
Most poignant however, is that these are not illegal migrants the government is threatening with deportation – it is a generation of people that we invited to Britain because we desperately needed them. Apparently, Theresa May fails to see much value in these Britons today and until this week was seemingly satisfied with banishing them from their homeland, exiling them to countries they probably haven’t seen since infancy. We are now seeing a generation of Brits who have worked and lived here all their lives being threatened with deportation, and heartbreakingly, some have faced worse than just threats.
If you haven’t watched it yet, I urge you to view David Lammy MP’s speech aimed at Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP this week. As the MP who secured the emergency debate in the first place, and the son of Guyanese migrants who came to the UK as British citizens, Lammy savaged the Home Secretary for claiming ignorance of the numbers. He passionately pointed out it was her department responsible for these deportations so she must have access to the figures. He demanded to know how many had lost their benefits, how many had lost their jobs, how many had lost their access to healthcare. This was a rousing and meticulous takedown of not only Amber Rudd, but the finger was also pointed at her predecessor – Theresa May. He was absolutely right to do so, and I defy anyone to watch his speech and not only be unimpressed by its content and substance, but not be moved by its emotion and genuine pain.
This is an embarrassing national scandal and a stain on our collective moral consciousness. Theresa May even refused a meeting with Caribbean leaders to discuss an amnesty arrangement. Let that sentence sink in for a moment. Caribbean leaders are having to try to negotiate an ‘amnesty’ settlement for people who have lived here legally; as contributors to our economy and enrichers to our culture their whole lives, and our Prime Minister refused to even engage. Yes, Downing Street has since U-turned on this snub and scheduled a meeting, but let’s hope their subsequent U-turn on this abhorrent policy is enacted swiftly.
What is most alarming about this scandal is that it is not the accident the government are portraying it as, and the apologies have rung hollow. Far from an administrative error, this national outrage was the result of conscious pulling of policy levers, and fits squarely with May’s ‘hostile environment’ pledge right alongside those vans. Rudd may have conceded that the Home Office is often too focussed on delivering policy and consequently neglects individuals (I’ve come across this all too often in constituency casework), but it has since been revealed that when Theresa May ran the department, the landing cards of these citizens were destroyed. That prompts a pause of reflection for me. The Home Office has been hounding people who have lived their entire lives in Britain, demanding they prove their right to be here, and here’s the kicker – they had already destroyed the evidence.
This is a national shame that should cost Caroline Nokes MP (Immigration Minister), Amber Rudd MP and Theresa May MP their jobs. If they had a shred a dignity, the three of them would have already resigned. This should have been the week a new Home Secretary and Prime Minister were appointed – and no less because the occupants of both of those positions currently, may have done the unthinkable and lied to the House of Commons.
Amber Rudd, whilst addressing Parliament in the emergency debate, stated the following; “Downing St said May had only become aware of the request on Monday morning and confirmed that she would be holding a meeting “at the earliest possible opportunity” with Caribbean leaders.” Allegedly, this was a bare-faced lie. According to The Guardian reporter Amelia Gentleman, Downing Street had been made aware on Saturday. If true, this is a sackable offence. Following that, Theresa May today claimed that the destruction of landing cards was done on the Labour Party’s watch in 2009. This is hotly disputed by former Labour Home Secretaries, suggesting a lie to Parliament. If true, this is a sackable offence. Furthermore, she is accused of misleading parliament over the case of Albert Thompson, raised by Jeremy Corbyn over a month ago. If true, this is a sackable offence.
The Home Secretary and Prime Minister may have both lied to Parliament, which should cost them their jobs. This scandal should have led to both resigning in disgrace. This should have been the week this government was brought to its knees. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing that as of yet. Britain is led by a Tory government so morally bankrupt that they targeted the Windrush generation for deportation as part of their ‘hostile environment’ policy, they were called out for it in Parliament by Labour MPs, they apologised for causing ‘anxiety’ and sold this atrocity as a ‘mistake’, and then allegedly lied to the House of Commons.
Make no mistake, the buck stops with Theresa May in this scenario. It was she who was Home Secretary from 2010, it was she who implemented the ‘hostile environment’, and it was she who may just have breached parliamentary convention. The onus does not fall on British citizens to prove they belong here, the onus lies with government to prove otherwise.
Let me make this perfectly clear, Mrs May, Mrs Rudd; it is not the Windrush generation who must prove they have a right to remain here, it is you. It is you who must prove you have a right to remain in government after bringing shame to the nation and crippling our moral authority in the world. In a just society, you’d have both resigned over this scandal. In absence of such a society, it is up to the rest of us to redouble our efforts to drive you, your far-right rhetoric and your dogmatic policies out of public life. It will be an uphill struggle, but I know at least a few hundred thousand people who are up for this battle.