Windrush: A contemporary tragedy

It would be an understatement to suggest that the Windrush scandal has not been the UK government’s finest hour. For a start, Prime Minister Theresa May was caught making a misleading statement to the House of Commons when she commented that the decision to destroy the landing cards of those Caribbean immigrants first arriving in the UK in 1948 was taken by Gordon Brown’s Labour government in 2009.

While this may be factually accurate, this decision was actually implemented in 2010 under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition when Theresa May was herself Home Secretary and therefore responsible for the oversight of such matters.

Then, Home Secretary Amber Rudd did not tell the whole story when she came before the Home Affairs Select Committee, dealing with the Windrush generation issue on 25 April. Ms. Rudd informed the Committee at this meeting that no immigration targets for removals had been set for immigration officials.

However, the Home Secretary had to backtrack on Thursday, stating that local targets had been set, but that she was not aware of them. To make matters worse for the Home Secretary, it now transpires that there is a June 2017 memo from an official, copied to Ms. Rudd that refers to targets. This has resulted in the Home Secretary having to fall on her sword and resign.

The opposition Labour Party has however been unable to take advantage of the disarray that exists at the heart of the UK government surrounding this issue. The Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has failed to land a knockout blow when dealing with Windrush at Prime Minister’s Questions. It has been left to Labour MP David Lammy, himself the son of Caribbean immigrants, to make the case for the Windrush generation when he raised the issue in Parliament.

Lammy launched an emotive attack on Amber Rudd when she was still Home Secretary. Along with the useful contribution Lammy has made to the debate, the Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has made a helpful intervention.

Appearing on Channel 4’s live televised debate on 24 April, Rees-Mogg addressed the issue of the “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, which serves as a backdrop to the Windrush fiasco. The hostile environment was introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary from 2010-2016.

Speaking about this, Rees-Mogg said: “I think the problem with the hostile environment is that it is fundamentally un-British.” Mr. Rees-Mogg also voiced his disapproval of mandatory ID cards during this debate, arguing that the compulsion to carry such cards at all times would be a breach of human rights.

The children of the Carribean immigrants, who were on board the ship the Empire Windrush when it arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex on 22 June 1948 could not have envisaged the difficulties that would lie in wait for them many years later. They came to the UK at the invitation of the UK government to solve the problem of the labour shortage that existed at the time.

However, they and the children of immigrants from the Carribean arriving in the UK up to 1971 have been threatened with loss of their right to work, access to the National Health Service and, in some cases, deportation. They have been affected in this way as they came to the UK on their parents’ passports.

Because of changes in the immigration rules, introduced in the UK in 2012, these then children were forced to obtain British passports to regularise their immigration status. Even though they are Commonwealth citizens like their parents, these second-generation immigrants are now being treated as illegal if they did not obtain British passports.

The scandal has already caused one suicide. The question is how many more lives it will ultimately ruin.

Romer Cherubim
Freelance journalist

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