The fresh tales of human misery among the Windrush generation defy natural justice and belief

The more disturbing question is how this situation was allowed to persist for months after the media, MPs and the leader of the opposition had begun to raise cases of extreme hardship

Sunday 22 April 2018 15:59
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Dawn Butler says Theresa May could be accused of racism in wake of Windrush scandal

There is a rule of politics, apparently devised by Alastair Campbell, who knows about such things, that states that, if a story hasn’t been rebutted, denied or otherwise closed down after 11 days then you’re in trouble.

Theresa May and Amber Rudd are jointly and severely in trouble as the continuing and growing outrage about the treatment of the Windrush Generation simply refuses to subside – despite some dramatic foreign news stories that otherwise would have buried the row.

Dawn Butler, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn have, with impeccable timing, been successfully escalating the pressure on the hapless Ms May and Ms Rudd, a pair who have thus far displayed little sisterly solidarity here, as on much else.

The Labour charge – and one, more potently, also levelled by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and prominent parts of the Tory media establishment – is that the effect of government policy has been effectively discriminatory and shamefully unfair to British citizens. There are suggestions that the Home Office is institutionally racist. Some 25 years after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an episode that exposed so much that was wrong in our bureaucracy, it seems the Home Office is still found wanting, because of the flawed leadership of Ms May and Ms Rudd, as well as some of their Labour predecessors. As Mr Corbyn says, there is something rotten going on.

Pressure groups Liberty and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants are clear that the “hostile environment” regime run by Ms May and continued by Ms Rudd was disastrous, linking as it did civic rights to immigration status – a racist basis.

With each day come fresh tales of the human misery that has resulted from this ill-fated regime, as decent loyal British citizens, often getting on in years, are refused re-entry to their homes in the UK, threatened with deportation, denied access to NHS care, and seen their jobs and benefits placed in jeopardy. It defies natural justice and belief that such a state of affairs could arise. As Archbishop Sentamu suggested, it violates Magna Carta.

We know that maladministration is not unknown in the civil service and ministerial circles. Government makes mistakes, yes. The more disturbing question is how this situation was allowed to persist for months after the media, MPs and the leader of the opposition had begun to raise cases of extreme hardship, and long after Home Office officials had warned ministers, of whatever party, of the consequences of the hostile environment policy.

The point, if it needs to be made, about the policy is that it has not merely failed to distinguish between long-established British citizens and illegal migrants, grievous as that is: but that it helped create a moral climate in which all migrants, new and old, and their communities were subjected to this officially sanctioned hostility. It was entirely counterproductive, as it simply pushed jobs and accommodation underground and into the grey economy, beyond the reach of the law. It also, as a matter of fact, did little to deter immigration in any case. It failed.

Now we find, in a grim echo of the civil rights struggles of the past and as we honour the memory of Martin Luther King, that access to the vote itself is becoming subject to indirect racial discrimination. A requirement to present photographic identity papers in order to vote deprives many British citizens who do not possess a driving licence or a passport of their rightful say in who will govern them. It seems likely, from what we learned recently, that the Windrush generation will be disproportionately disadvantaged – thus effectively, if indirectly and carelessly, discriminated against.

So the point has been reached where Liberty and the JCWI’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins, purpose and consequences – intended or not – of the hostile environment should be heeded. Ms May and Ms Rudd are unlikely to agree to that, but they will need more more than empty, stumbling apologies to put this debacle behind them. Where once Ms May stood on the steps of Downing Street and declared her determination to fight racial “burning injustices”, she is now accused of creating them herself. It is a dire place for her to be.

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