What was Amber Rudd thinking? This question has been on the minds of most over the past fortnight. It does indeed seem bizarre that many Windrush settlers – people whose parentage is Caribbean but have lived in Britain for decades – have been issued with deportation notices. Yet the most disappointing part of this scandal is that no one is willing to accept responsibility. The Home Secretary could not even offer Parliament any idea of how many people had been affected. She had no idea.
The Prime Minister claims it was not the current government, nor its Liberal-Conservative predecessor, that set the issue in motion. Instead, she says it was Gordon Brown’s administration who destroyed the Windrush papers in the 2009 sunset of its reign. If that is the case, most of those responsible – Sir Alan Johnson under Labour in particular – no longer sit on the opposition benches, or worse, languish there as ostracised Blairites, avoiding being counted. Add to that the fact that current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was nowhere near the decision at the time, and you can understand his apparent own-goal that allowed the PM to point out Labour’s supposed blunder nine years ago.
This, however, is a quite disingenuous claim from Theresa May that stretches the truth. Targets are very much the buzzword in Whitehall right now, with the Prime Minister in full awareness that she was responsible for the introduction of the so-called ‘Hostile Environment’ policy in 2012. In what was a largely political move, powers were afforded to immigration and state benefits organisations to reduce the capacity for illegal migration to the UK. Deportations rapidly increased under her orders, nicely embodied by the now-infamous ‘Go Home’ vans.
This game of accountability tennis will continue in a repugnant deuce for quite some time, as the binary politics of the UK is wont to allow. Nonetheless, we must continue to ask how this could have happened, as it quite clearly offends sensibilities across the political divide. People left their homes, their way of life and, often, their families to come to Britain. They worked long hours in unpleasant jobs and built back up the bankrupt little island that they had heard so many good things about.
Decades on, a letter from the Home Office is their reward. Jobs have been lost, medical help denied, and livelihoods forfeited in the blind pursuit of deportations. Corbyn may have not known who was responsible for throwing away the Windrush generation’s claim to citizenship, and Theresa May can claim it was not done on her watch, but neither negligence changes the fact that the human cost of this scandal is huge and is increasing with every investigation into the Home Office’s policing of immigration. Ignorance of her own department’s actions will not help Amber Rudd, nor the Conservatives, who are starting to look like the Nasty Party of yore.