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Windrush: Business as Usual

April 30, 2018


I’ve refrained so far from commenting on the whole Windrush scandal currently flying about the news, but this is really something that deserves to be talked about more, and something everyone should know at least a summary of, as it is absolutely illustrative of the government currently in power here. As such, allow me to lay it out for anyone who hasn’t kept up to speed.

Back around the 1950s, following the war, Britain worked to rebuild the country. They went to Commonwealth countries, asking for people who were willing, in the spirit of the Commonwealth, to come to Britain and help to rebuild it. In return, they were told that they and their families would become British citizens in the future of this country. Families from various Commonwealth countries, especially around the Caribbean, left their homes behind and boarded ships such as the Windrush with their children to do so. This wave of immigrants are known as the Windrush generation.

On to 2010, when Theresa May became Home Secretary under the Conservative government and set about implementing her hallmark policy – the creation of a “hostile environment” (her words, literally) for immigrants to this country. Her goal was to get net migration down to certain targets which were ultimately never achieved due, presumably, to gross incompetence. The will was certainly there, but not the ability. In 2016 she became Prime Minister following the Brexit vote, and appointed Amber Rudd as the new Home Secretary.

The Brexit vote was largely driven by popular distaste for immigration, which the press had spent years whipping the public into a frenzy about. May took the opportunity to double down on her “hostile environment” policies, which she passed on to Rudd to implement (increasing fivefold from 2010-2017). For the next couple of years there were constant stories about ordinary people who had lived here for decades being arrested, or sent letters informing them of their impending arrest, on the grounds of being here illegally. Absurd levels of evidence were required of them to prove that they were here legally, including mountains of paperwork and forms completed. If anything was found to be unsatisfactory, then the person was deported. There are plenty of stories about the Kafkaesque processes these people were subjected to.

At some point, it became clear that the Windrush generation were being targeted. The children who had arrived at the age of 5 or 6 with their parents, on the promise of becoming British citizens, who had then made a life here over the last 50 or 60 years, were being locked up and told to provide proof of this or else being deported as criminals back to their ‘real’ country, that they had no memory of and had never in any real sense lived in (as the government well knew, as they were also provided with informational pamphlets on how to integrate, such as advice to put on a fake Caribbean accent so as not to stand out). This was potentially thousands of people, here perfectly legally. The heads of the Caribbean countries joined forces and requested a meeting with May to get to the bottom of what was going on, but May refused to meet them or discuss it.

So why did these people need to provide evidence of citizenship, when surely the government already had that in their records from when they arrived? Well it turns out that in 2010, the building that stored all the landing cards containing the information on these arrivals was repurposed. At the time, there was a decision to be made: transfer these records to a digital format, or bin them. The government opted to bin them, despite the protestation of staff at the time. When the Windrush generation a couple of years later argued, when it was demanded of them, that the evidence of their citizenship was already held by the government, the government then simply replied “we have no records of that”, which was now true, and locked them up.

These stories got enough traction that when the heads of the Commonwealth actually came to visit England, May reluctantly deigned to meet them. She offered empty apologies for mistakes made by civil servants that she was very upset about and would have stopped if only she’d known. Amber Rudd blamed also the civil servants for doing their jobs, criticising them for focusing on policies and losing sight of the individual.

But what were these policies, and who set them, if not the current and former heads of the Home Office, Rudd and May, who had previously been making hay out of their “hostile environment”? Well, Rudd and May said, they had no idea, it must have been some middle manager. Rumours came out that the Home Office had been set specific targets of immigrants to deport, and staff were pressured to meet these targets, leading them to focus on people for whom the evidence was known to no longer exist. Rudd explicitly said before parliament that was absolutely false and there were no targets.

Enough noise was made by various people that Rudd was finally forced to admit that OK, there might be targets, but that if there were, she didn’t know anything about them. May supported Rudd, saying she had her full confidence.

Much of this was hardly covered by the Tory press, who instead tried to distract from all this by screeching about Labour’s “anti-semitism problems”, which seem to be a lot of noise based on not very much more than hardly anything at all, no specifics but lots of noise. When asked about it by constituents, MPs have responded by accusing Labour of “opportunism”, claiming this has nothing to do with immigration policy.

A letter was then leaked, addressed to Rudd, talking explicitly about the steps the staff were taking in order to hit the targets that she had set. Rudd said that yes, while that did appear to mention targets and seemed to be addressed to her, she had never actually seen it and didn’t know what it was referring to. May agreed that sounded reasonable and continued to give Rudd her full support.

So another letter was leaked, this time one written by Rudd herself, addressed to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, boasting about what her office was doing in order to hit these targets. And finally, Rudd resigned. But not for lying repeatedly about a policy that was demonstrably harming beyond repair the lives of British citizens and society at large, but for “inadvertently misleading” parliament about the existence of the targets, putting it all down to misunderstanding. May reluctantly accepted her resignation, agreeing that a misunderstanding is all it was.

It is not a misunderstanding, as the Prime Minister well knows. This whole affair has its roots in the policy that she herself enacted, and was getting reports on a personal level directly from Rudd herself on how it was proceeding. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has lied repeatedly to parliament about this, and the thing is, this is far from the first time. This government has made a habit of repeated, barefaced lying. Last month, Rudd was in the news for insisting that the crime wave hitting London (which has overtaken New York in murders for the first time in history) has absolutely nothing to do with the massive cuts to police numbers and funding this government has enforced. Imagine saying with a straight face that declining police and increasing crime are unrelated.

The other most obvious example that comes to mind is David Davis, the Secretary responsible for delivering Brexit. He spent a good long while promising parliament that Brexit was a great idea, that it would be good for Britain, as evidenced by a variety of impact reports, which he said had been written up in “excruciating detail”. When asked to present these reports, he repeatedly said that he couldn’t do so due to the sensitive nature of them, but that they definitely existed and that May was very happy with them. When he was forced through parliamentary rules to produce the reports, he delayed his response as long as possible before admitting that actually, there were no reports. The government had done no actual research into how Brexit might actually impact the UK. This was about 8 months after the government had invoked Article 50 to start the 2-year window on departure. Reports were eventually created, which showed that in every possible scenario, Brexit would make the UK significantly worse off. Even with the explicit aim of trying to find something to save face, the experts could not conceive of any possible scenario where the UK could even come close to breaking even. Nothing happened to Davis, he was forgiven as this was all apparently overblown anyway.

Calling it straight, Theresa May is a barefaced liar, leading from the top over a government packed full of total con-men, who have taken the Donald Trump attitude to the truth (as well as speaking, as today’s winner from May shows):

“If you look at what we’re doing as a government, and have been doing over the years as a government, what we are doing is responding to the need that people see for a government to deal with illegal immigration. That’s exactly what we are doing.” 

Their policies are damaging, they are ruining both the lives of individuals as well as society at large, which is becoming more fractured by the day. These are very real effects. There is already reports of Windrush citizens missing a daughter’s wedding, having homes confiscated while in hospital, being refused cancer treatment, or even dying due to stress brought on by the ordeal.

Local elections are coming up this week, and amazingly, there are still people who will vote for this party. The common refrain from such people is “but it’s better than Corbyn!”, because that’s the line the Tory press is pushing (without any detail on why it’s better). But those people need to know that they are actively supporting this style of government, and these kinds of people, and think about what might happen when it starts to turn against them.

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