Sometimes, it would seem that the UK Houses of Parliament are literally sinking into the River Thames beside them. What with the ongoing antisemitism engulfing the Labour Party, and now the horrific treatment of the so-called ‘Windrush Generation’ at the hands of the current Home Office, it feels as if the current news cycle has brushed off the thin veneer of respectability of government institutions. Through scandals such as these, the institutional racism still present in UK politics has been revealed.
The Windrush saga reveals an acceptance by the government of blatantly anti-immigrant rhetoric in exchange for perceived political gain. The Windrush generation consists of UK nationals of Caribbean descent, most of whom are at pensionable age. The generation takes its name from the first ship, carrying 492 Commonwealth nationals, including a high proportion of children, which docked in Essex in 1948. These passengers were invited on the understanding that they, and their children would be British citizens. Indeed, before the 1971 Immigration Act, documentation to prove ‘status’ was not necessary. This has left a significant number of British citizens, many born here, who consider themselves unquestionably British, and yet do not have the ‘documentation’ required to prove their continued existence as UK citizens.
For many, the question that they would one day be asked to prove their ‘British-ness’ via documents, or face deportation back to Caribbean countries which in some cases they had never even been to, would have been unthinkable. However in 2012, the incumbent Home Secretary, Theresa May, was motivated by the dominance of UKIP in the political consciousness of the moment to create a self-confessed ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy. Under the policy, immigrants would only receive certain benefits, NHS access and job offers upon the presentation of the correct documentation to prove their legal right to be here. For May, and her civil servants, the policy would work because it would encourage ‘illegal’ immigrants to self-deport.
This was the era in which Home Office vans were emblazoned with the slogans ‘Here illegally? Go home!’. Grossly racist and dehumanising, these vans were quickly scrapped when even newspapers such as The Sun expressed concern. Even now, Theresa May seeks to duck responsibility, with Nick Timothy, her pre-disastrous-early-election-calling chief advisor claiming she was on holiday when they were deployed and hadn’t signed them off. Something which she can’t shirk blame for though is the Immigration Act. Passed in 2014, only 14 MPs voted against the Immigration Act of 2014. This act is what has directly led to the Windrush saga. UK citizens are now being held at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and then deported back to Caribbean countries.
As David Lammy succinctly put it to a squirming Amber Rudd in the House of Commons last week, ‘‘when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas”. The Home Secretary then admitted she was leading a Home Office that ‘sometimes lost sight of the individual’. The Windrush case, in which 60+-year-olds who have contributed to the UK state all their lives are threatened with deportation, is proof that the current government have indeed created a ‘hostile environment’; one where non-white British citizens are consistently reminded through episodes like these that they will never be able to fully assimilate into British society when the government panders so hard to the right at their expense.