When I was at school the taunt ‘go home’ or ‘go back to where you came from’ was usually accompanied by the abuse of the day – in 1970s midlands it was Wog or coon – or just blackie for the less imaginative. It was upsetting but also confusing for someone born in Warwickshire. Now we have the Windrush debacle where folk who have been here as long as or longer than my mother are suffering the kind of treatment we would condemn immediately if it happened in Russia or an African dictatorship.
The Windrush debacle is blowing headlong onto the rocks of racism and into the cliff that Brexit is just about to tumble over.
(I know – by the time you’ve untangled that analogy Kaftans will be back in fashion…)
Politicians have known for years that the decision taken in 2009 (by a then Labour government) - to dispose of landing cards - was a disaster. Added to this was the declared policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ to illegal migrants championed by then Home Secretary Theresa May in line with the creeping xenophobia that was to break out in Brexit. This led to thousands who had settled here and worked legally – suddenly finding that citizenship rights had evaporated. The initial decision was crazy and inexplicable, the landing cards were important historical documents tied to the rights of many who have contributed to British society for decades.
The problematic, mismanaged and often racist UK Border Agency has been criticised almost since its inception in 2008. It attracted condemnation for inadequacy, failure to process visas effectively or efficiently – for the way it has treated potential victims of trafficking and yet is it only now that those - many of whom have lived here since the 1940s and 50s – have had their nightmare acknowledged and backed up by a promise of speedy resolution.
In March 2013 PM Theresa May, then Home Secretary, brought the Border Agency back under the auspices of the Home Office but she did nothing about the plight of those whose lives were in limbo. Causing more misery, not to mention international embarrassment, the Prime Minister refused to bow to pressure until the headlines got too much and the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in London this year amplified the bad press. THEN she was forced to apologise and claim she felt it was an urgent issue. IT is a humanitarian disgrace on our own doorstep.
It is hard to imagine the pain caused to those caught in this dirty, tangled net of state racism. From a man who missed his daughter’s wedding to people denied healthcare or even incarcerated. Theresa May certainly succeeded in creating the hostile environment but not just for ‘illegal’ immigrants but for many Caribbean people who contributed to British society for decades (after their slave ancestors contributed to the wealth of the British empire with literal blood sweat and tears for centuries.)
Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations get more scrambled and contradictory. Worryingly, the Windrush calamity is all too much of a taste of things to come. I have written many times on this blog, not just about Brexit but specifically how EU citizens are being left in limbo (e.g. 229. Article 50 is funny – isn’t it?)
As it gets ever more difficult to keep up with all the negotiation ‘redlines’ that keep getting crossed – even the abysmal Boris Johnson (in The Telegraph 18th April) is now insinuating his double speak into the immigration issue. A small wedge is being inserted into the difference between taking back control of our borders – the UKIP cry - and actual immigration. What this does is leave those with power money and influence in a situation that suits them well – a supply of cheap potential labour but unregulated by well-established EU labour laws – the exact opposite of what those who voted Brexit THINK they voted for but equally not what any Remain campaigners wanted either. In short – the worst of all possible worlds.
If this is how legal Commonwealth migrants of decades standing are treated – what hope for EU migrants after Brexit?
One thing is clear – Windrush may come to have a new meaning in the era of Brexit i.e. the wind of racism is blowing stronger than ever in the UK as Britain rushes over the Brexit cliff…
My good friend Bob – who was a Newcastle city councillor with me in the 1980s/90s, sent me this link. This well-known speech was made a couple of weeks before my 4th birthday. It reminds me that there have been truly great people in the world but also leaves me wondering how come the mediocre and the craven have taken over…