The government is currently engulfed in the controversy of the Windrush scandal, which has already claimed the job of the now former Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The scandal developed as the government, long driven by the open Conservative Party target of drastically reducing net migration into the country. It primarily pursued Caribbean migrants who arrived between 1948-1971 to the UK with demands of paperwork to prove they are legally entitled to stay. These migrants, many who came over as children with their families, were invited to Britain by the Empire to help rebuild the country after the devastation of World War II and the loss of millions of workers in the conflict.
After 1971, the influx ended as the Immigration Act was passed into law which stated that a British passport-holder born overseas could only settle in the UK if they firstly had a work permit, and secondly, could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK. Since then many thousands of migrants who came over never claimed for travel documents in the UK and any trace of their arrival was lost in 2010 as the Home Office destroyed the landing cards that would prove the legal status of many such people.
As a result, the government has been actively pursuing people who have lived the majority of their lives in the UK and grown old whilst taking up many hard jobs during their lifetimes; being manual workers, cleaners, drivers and nurses. They are being challenged over their legal status and without any documentation to prove their claim, being denied healthcare treatment in their old age, held in detention centres and threatened with deportation. Those still able to work have lost their jobs and are struggling to understand how they can move forward.
Such a callous attitude is not an exception in British political thinking, rather it is a staple of how Britain has exploited the world in order to grow rich.
Not only did Britain rampage across the globe and steal resources from the lands it conquered, but it also took advantage of the people of these lands. In contrast to some of the actions Britain has been responsible for as part of its colonial legacy, such as taking part in the brutal transatlantic slave trade and the establishment of concentration camps in the Boer Wars in Africa, the Windrush issue is a relatively tame one.
Nonetheless, it highlights how Britain’s immigration policy has never been one built on compassion for people suffering in other lands, often as a result of its own direct actions. It viewed – and continues to view – people from other lands as mere economic resources, and this strain of thinking is reflected in much of its institutions and society. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, which highlighted how the police dealing with the case were institutionally racist, is one such example. In society, attitudes towards migrants have been characterised with a general hostility which transcends race. The Brexit vote of 2016 was driven in great part by the revulsion, of some in the British society and state, at the free flow of migrants from Eastern Europe into the UK.
The UK has attempted to veil such underlying attitudes by enacting policies such as multiculturalism when it was economically necessary for immigrants to come to the UK. However, this has proven politically untenable in the long term and so has given way to the current philosophy of ‘muscular liberalism’, as the xenophobic undercurrents that form the values of a major part of British state and society cannot be held back. These have been compounded by an increasing wealth gap which sees the indigenous working class pitted against cheap labour from abroad in competition for jobs, housing and public services, whilst a small number of influential capitalists grow rich from this struggle.
Such scandals will continue to emerge as they are the symptoms of the values of nationalism, breeding an arrogance based upon a history of a racist and exploitative empire that saw other peoples as inferior.
This vision of exploitation is derived from a capitalist ideology that values profit, not compassion, above all else. Discussions of a ‘points based’ immigration system, which sees only those immigrants who can economically benefit the country allowed in, rather than those most at need, point to a continuation of this legacy for a long time to come.