Opinion
01 May 2018

Making the UK hostile again

The British home secretary Amber Rudd resigned shortly before Labour Day in the wake of a scandal that sheds an awful light on her, Prime Minister Theresa May and the whole immigration policy of the UK.

 Cathrin Kahlweit
Cathrin Kahlweit Sueddeutsche Zeitung, United Kingdom
Making the UK hostile again - NewsMavens
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd hold onto their hats on a windy day. AP/EAST NEWS

-- by Cathrin Kahlweit, UK and Ireland Correspondent for Sueddeutsche Zeitung GmbH

When British media first published stories about the topic that eventually ended Rudd’s career and made May look cruel and ignorant, Europe did not really care. Okay, the government in London was mistreating people who had migrated 50 years ago from the Caribbean. The government was telling them they were not British subjects and had to go home. So what?

Those people were from far away, they were not white, they were not being heard. Too bad, but there seemed to be no implications for the EU and the future relationship between European citizens and London. Now, however, after the whole story broke, Europeans are doing a double take. 

Suddenly the fate of migrants from the Caribbean matters. Because what the home office did to immigrants from Jamaica, Barbados or St. Lucia, it might also do to people from the continent: maneuver them out of the country because they are not welcome anymore – regardless of the law.  

A hostile environment for foreigners was also what the majority of voters wanted when they voted for Brexit in 2016. And that is what they got. It has now come to light that the seed for this radical, inhuman approach was planted long before the referendum – by interior minister Theresa May.

The scandal so far mainly affects people from the so called Windrush generation. They are named after a ship which brought hundreds of migrants to Britain in 1948. They were needed to work as nurses, construction or factory workers and help rebuild the country after World War II. They have been living in the UK ever since. Working, paying taxes, raising families, buying homes and feeling, rightfully, at home.

After the conservative government came to power in 2010, however, their status came under question. Some were refused medical treatment. Landlords and employers were asked to check people's immigration status. Legal migrants were then denied housing or jobs. Others were told that they are in Britain illegally and threatened with deportation, because they could not produce paperwork proving their right to reside in the country. All this despite the fact that they, and subsequent Caribbean migrants from British colonies or ex-colonies, had an automatic right to settle in the U.K. Some were even deported to countries they had left as children.

When heads of state from the Caribbean complained, protests forced Rudd and May to explain themselves. But they could not.

Rudd lied to members of the parliament again and again; she denied that there had been quotas for eviction aimed at people who were undoubtedly citizens, but too poor or too helpless to prove it. Both May and Rudd made things worse by saying that they only planned to go after illegal immigrants, while admitting that they had simply ignored citizen’s rights. One can only assume that the home office went after the people who were easy prey -- the poor, mostly old, and black.

The Windrush debacle is a a bad omen for the 3 million European Union citizens living in Britain, because May has promised to bring immigration down.

At the moment the government promises to respect the rights of European immigrants and to make it as easy as possible to register in the UK in the future. But Europeans have already been deported. And it has become clear that this government is split and undecided about the Brexit it wants.

Should there be, in the end, a hard Brexit or even no deal, the rights of Europeans residing in the UK could be at risk. The Windrush scandal shows that Theresa May and her cabinet are not to be trusted to negotiate this terrain.

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