Theresa May and Windrush: Too little, too late

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One of the lasting legacies of Theresa May’s six-year tenure as Home Secretary has been immigration policy. She told Conservative party conference in 2015 that high levels of immigration makes it impossible to have a “cohesive society” and one for her key immigration policies was creating what the government called a “hostile environment” for immigrants, which in practice meant putting the onus on companies to check that all their staff had the legal right to be in the UK, and for the NHS to check the immigration status of all the service users – with the end goal being to make life cumbersome enough for immigrants that they would pack their bags and go home. Another example of this hostile environment in practice was a billboard on the back of vans with the ominous words “Go home or face arrest” (this was later banned by the Advertising Standards Authority). One of the main consequences of this has been the checks resulting in the detention and in some cases deportation of people that arrived in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 60s as children from formerly British islands in the Caribbean and were given indefinite leave to remain in 1973, known as the Windrush generation after the ship many of them came on – the RMS Windrush.

The scandal detailed of people unduly deported and cancer treatments denied – all because of the haphazard manner of their arrival and the new hostile environment that the government was trying to introduce – part of this environment is the relatively rule that there had to be four pieces of information (e.g. bank statements, tax records) for each year that they had lived in the UK, shown to Home Office officials to prove they had the right to remain. The landing cards for the Windrush children were destroyed in 2010 under the supervision of whom? Theresa May. This is why Labour’s ultimately calls for Amber Rudd to resign as Home Secretary were unjustified until her lies to Parliament had been revealed. However, it’s her predecessor-turned-boss Theresa where the blame should lie. While Mrs May correctly points out that the decision to do this was first taken under her Labour predecessor Alan Johnson, for which both him and his party must take some blame. However, the fact Theresa May did not reverse this decision before it came into practice when she became Home Secretary after the 2010 General Election. Part of why this is so serious is similar to the Renewable Heat Initiative scandal of late 2016/early 2017 in Northern Ireland – the minister at fault has since risen to the head of their respective tables.

Alan Johnson can’t be removed from any public office because he no longer holds any, having stood down as an MP at the last general election. Attacking the Labour Party is useless when there isn’t a relevant head to put on a spike. Theresa May must own up to the side effects of the hostile immigration policies she introduced as Home Secretary. However, I don’t think this is an inherent resignation issue. While it normally would and should be, the inner dynamics of the Conservative party means that she would risk seeing her party collapse into infighting if she resigns. There is no real alternative to her premiership, however unpopular it is. Boris Johnson is even more unpopular with Conservative membership and I don’t see many people that could step up to the plate and challenge him. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the party that Theresa stays – even under any significant pressure, as this is where the blame for this scandal should lie. However, it is also Labour’s duty (in addition to other opposition parties), as well as pressurising Theresa to quit, to work with the Government to bring in safeguards that have Parliamentary consensus to ensure that the Windrush scandal is a one-off, and nobody who has the right to stay here gets unduly detained and/or deported. With the fresh start of Sajid Javid as Home Secretary, there is definitely an oppertunity to do this. With the upcoming debates about the rights of EU nationals post-Brexit, this has to happen in the not so distant future.

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