UK hostile environment immigration policy condemned

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2020

The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has just published a report into the Windrush scandal. The report shows that policy makers ignored warnings about the likely impacts of the “hostile environment” policy on groups such as the Windrush generation. As a result of the policy, many people who had difficulty in proving their right to reside in the UK, often because the Home Office imposed a ludicrous evidential burden on them, lost their jobs, their homes, were denied access to vital health care, were detained in prison-like immigration detention centres or were deported and excluded from a country they had lived in all their lives.

The report makes grim reading, but what emerges clearly from it is that ministers and their civil servants, seeking to display a “get tough” message on immigration, were not disposed to listen to the people telling them about how things would turn out. They were already set on the policy and were going to stick to it whatever. Critics were to be ignored and rebutted and the UK government were not interested in finding evidence that would get in the way. Legal duties to promote equality and non-discrimination were not seen as goals that ought to inform policy but, at best, as obstacles to circumvented.

After the Windrush scandal broke in 2018, thanks to the work of activists and journalists, including Amelia Gentleman who wrote an excellent book about this, the Home Office pledged to put things right. But the compensation scheme for victims that the Home Office was forced to put in place has paid out a pittance to a very few of the victims, and a senior civil servant has resigned suggesting that racism is an important part of the explanation. Almost weekly new absurdities come to light, such as the case of a man who the Home Office illegally excluded from the country who has now applied for British citizenship, which the Home Office is denying him on the basis that he spent too long out of the country.

The British press, with the exception of the Guardian, has given little prominence to this story. Another report from the EHCR into anti-semitism in the Labour Party was all over the front pages, but one into the impact of immigration policy on the lives of thousands of people is, well, not. Too late to affect this report but ominously for the future, the UK government has now appointed David Goodhart, a prominent advocate of the hostile environment (who now says he was always against “abuses”), as one of the commissioners for the EHRC. As US Republicans have learnt from the experience of the Supreme Court, the answer to the problem of referees giving decisions against you is to appoint new, more pliant, referees.