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Letter from Britain: increasingly illiberal establishment and the challenge of Jeremy Corbyn

Britain prides itself on being a liberal state, tolerant of diverse points of view with a judicial system based on law and evidence, but its recent behavior has been anything but that.

by Alexander Mercouris

Part 4 - The Windrush Scandal

The third scandal—actually two scandals which have evolved together—is however the most revealing and interesting of the lot.

Over the last few weeks both the Conservative and the Labour parties have been targets of accusations of racism.

In the case of the Tories the allegations stem from what is called the Windrush affair.

As is true in most Western countries today, Britain has witnessed over the last decade a strong swing in public hostility against immigration. Much of the opposition to the European Union in Britain is driven by the British public’s belief that it is the EU that has made the increase in immigration to Britain—which has undoubtedly taken place over the previous two decades—possible.

The Conservative Party, since it came to power in 2010, has sought to respond to this sentiment—much of which has clearly racist undertones—by taking a strong anti-immigration position. The point figure is British Prime Minister Theresa May, who as home secretary (the minister responsible for control of borders and the police) introduced and implemented what is semi-officially called a “hostile environment policy” towards immigrants who have not managed to sort out their status.

The idea is to put as many administrative and other obstacles in the path of these people as possible to make their lives in Britain intolerable in order to force them to leave without having to take what might be legally challengeable action to deport them.

That this is a profoundly illiberal and even racist policy discriminating against people of non-British ethnicity should be obvious. It has however proved to be popular with a large section of the British electorate.

The electoral success this policy is believed to have brought the Conservatives was one factor in establishing May’s reputation in Tory eyes as a successful home secretary, and was one of the reasons why she succeeded David Cameron as prime minister after the Brexit vote in 2016 forced him to step down.

The policy of the “hostile environment policy” has, however, had the consequence of making victims out of some members of the so-called “Windrush generation” of immigrants, whose legal right to be in Britain is indisputable.

These are people from the former British empire and Commonwealth who were formally given the right to settle in Britain by the British National Act of 1948, and who take their name from a ship—the HMT Empire Windrush—which brought the first group of such immigrants to Britain in 1948 from the British colonies in the Caribbean.

In April 2018 it turned out that many of the records relating to these people had been “accidentally destroyed,” making it difficult for them or their children to prove their legal right to be in Britain.

The result was that they got caught up in May’s “hostile environment policy” with pressure placed on them to leave Britain (“self-deport,” as it is called) with threats that they might be deported if they did not.

When the scandal broke—in large part because the opposition Labour Party made an issue of it after it was leaked from a Home Office source to the media—a public apology was forced from the British government, and Amber Rudd—May’s successor as home secretary – was forced to resign. However, the prime minister, the actual author of the “hostile environment policy” which was the cause of the scandal, has emerged unscathed.

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