By former MP for Stirling, Steven Paterson
The Tories and many of their supporters in the mainstream media would have us believe that those people of the Windrush generation who have been treated as second class citizens by their own government are some sort of collateral damage: accidental casualties of a campaign that wasn’t about them at all.
However, to believe this would be to ignore evidence which is there for all to see. The Windrush scandal is the result of a deliberate, aggressive and obsessive campaign against immigrants which has become the most important political issue at Westminster, and which has driven us to the edge of the Brexit precipice and the financial disaster it promises. A scandal like Windrush was bound to happen, and this one won’t be the last.
So far, the only political casualty has been Amber Rudd. The former Home Secretary fulfilled her role as human shield for her predecessor, the Prime Minister, to the ultimate degree by resigning last Sunday night once it had become obvious that fronting yet another Ministerial Statement to correct the record about her department’s actions was simply not credible. Ms Rudd’s noble sacrifice will not be forgotten by her party, though, and she can likely expect to do just a few months of penance on the backbenches before being so suitably rehabilitated that she can make a return to government.
The loss of Remainer Amber Rudd from the Cabinet, and her replacement as Home Secretary by the much more EU-sceptic Sajid Javid, sees the balance of the Cabinet skewed even further towards those advocating an extreme hard Brexit and rejecting any kind of sensible accommodation that preserves access to the customs union. The Brexit countdown continues, unabated by domestic political developments, and the pressure thus continues to build on a Prime Minister short of time and allies in Cabinet and being pulled in two different directions by rival factions in her own party.
What lessons have the Government learned from the Windrush scandal?
On Wednesday, the House of Commons used a parliamentary procedure known as the ‘humble address’ to try to force the Government to release policy documentation relating to Windrush cases, including emails, text messages, details of deportations, detentions and refusals of re-entry, and minutes of meetings. Using this device effectively made the debate binding on the government, meaning that their MPs would have to turn up and vote instead of slinking off early back to their constituencies on Wednesday afternoon.
Nonetheless, the result was predictable enough. Tory MPs including Stirling’s, supported by their DUP allies, voted to block the release of immigration policy papers which would have been so revealing as to culpability for the mess that has just transpired, and as a result we are instead left with only the Government’s assurance that lessons have been learned.
But things have to change. I mean, post-Brexit, what are non-UK nationals with leave to remain in the UK to make of this? If they leave, for example to go and visit family in Poland, can they be absolutely sure they’ll get back in to the UK? Would it be a wise investment for a Pole living in the UK to set up a business under such circumstances? And what about non-UK nationals working in public services such as the NHS, which relies overwhelmingly on migrant labour to operate? Or in the social care sector? Or in the tourism sector?
The results of the English local elections, which at the time of writing appears to be showing the Tories largely holding what they have thanks to the collapse of the now-pointless UKIP, will no doubt represent a rare and welcome boost for the Prime Minister after another bruising few weeks. Indeed, she might even reflect that the fallout of Windrush wasn’t all that bad after all. And since the damage caused by the Tory obsession with immigration and controlling borders will only change if immigration policies are changed, the fact that the Tories appear to have emerged largely unscathed from the English local elections will put paid to any serious efforts to change course here.
Sure, we will hear less of the “hostile environment” and “deport first and hear appeals later” kind of language from the UK’s establishment party, at least for a while, but it was clear hearing the Prime Minister’s bullish responses on “illegal immigrants” at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that no substantial policy change is going to be forthcoming when it comes to immigration, whoever is caught in the crossfire.
Without a radical change of thinking and policy direction, the only thing we can say with some certainty is that there will be more such ‘collateral damage’ in future, thanks to a Tory Party which is completely and utterly obsessed with the issue of immigration.
Featured Image Windrush Square by Zleitzen~commonswiki (assumed based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons