Race and Politics,  Windrush

Priti Patel and the Dangers of the Home Office

Another week, another example of despicable and dangerous behaviour from the Home Office.

As you all ought to be aware, on 2 December a deportation flight to Jamaica took off. It was dubbed #Jamaica50 on Twitter and Instagram because 50 people were due to be deported. As campaigners such as BARAC UK rallied for public support to get the flight stopped, lawyers representing the deportees worked tirelessly and into the early hours of the morning of the 2nd to have those wrongfully put on that flight removed. When the flight took off, only 13 of the original 50 were on it.

Let’s read that again. Only 13 people out of the original 50 were actually deported.

That means 37 people were removed. 37 people were wrongfully put on that plane and the Home Office did not care one bit. As the campaign to stop the flight gained traction, the issue was raised in the House of Commons, where the immigration minister Chris Philp doubled down on the Home Office’s actions. The same old tired lines were trotted out: they make “no apologies” for deporting “murderers and rapists” and it’s “nothing to do with Windrush.”

Uh huh. The Home Office would have us believe that every single person due to be deported was a murderer or rapist because that obscures the fact that some of those deportees may have been victims of modern slavery.  In tweets to the Home Office, I’ve already outlined why I believe the flight should not have gone ahead (you can read them here) so I won’t go into that again. But needless to say, the removal of 37 deportees shows that the Home Office’s actions were unlawful no matter how much they want to posture and be unrepentant. Of course, the Home Office will never accept this, which leads me to the point of this post.

The Dangers of the Home Office

During the campaign to have the deportation flights stopped, a letter signed by a number of influential black figures, Windrush campaigners and Windrush victims was sent to the Home Office. A separate letter organised by Clive Lewis and signed by a number of Labour MPs were sent to Priti Patel. The response was predictable. Murderers. Rapists. No apologies.

Then, 37 people got removed from the flight and Priti Patel lost her tiny racist mind. The front page of Friday’s Daily Mail read: ‘PRITI FURY AT STARS’ INSULT TO WINDRUSH VICTIMS.’ The article went on to report Patel’s anger at seeing “ill-informed Labour politicians and do-gooding celebrities attempting to conflate the victims of Windrush with these vile criminals set for deportation…” Patel’s statement here is outrageous for so many reasons, but I’ll just list three.

  • The AUDACITY

The absolute brass neck of this woman to pretend she cares about the victims of the Windrush Scandal, when so many of them are still waiting for compensation. At the end of October, only 196 people had been paid compensation since the scheme started. In April Alexandra Ankrah, who was head of policy of the Windrush compensation scheme, quit because she felt the scheme was “systematically racist.” Despite claiming the Home Office will adopt the Wendy Williams Lessons Learned Review recommendations in full, Priti Patel has yet to implement them and there are clearly issues within the compensation scheme. Like the Home Secretaries before her, all Priti Patel has done thus far is pay lip service to the victims of the Windrush Scandal, so to see her use them as a weapon against her critics is what is truly offensive.

Windrush Day Protest, London, June 2019
  • She doesn’t even know what she’s talking about

Quelle surprise. Patel label the signatories to that letter as “ill-informed Labour MPs and do-gooding celebrities.” Putting aside the fact that labelling prominent black British figures (some of who themselves have connections to the Windrush Generation) in such a derogatory manner is rude AF, Patel has clearly overlooked the fact that actual Windrush victims and campaigners signed that letter. Yes, Naomi Campbell and Thandie Newton signed it, but so did Glenda Caesar – a Windrush victim and one of the most prominent campaigners. So did Jacqueline McKenzie, a brilliant immigration lawyer who has been working closely with Windrush victims for years. Priti Patel overlooking that fact and demonising the signatories as “do-gooding celebrities” points to one of two things: either she didn’t bother to read the letter properly, or she chose to ignore the Windrush victims and campaigners in order to push her narrative that she and her government are heroes fighting these “do-gooders.” Whichever it is, Patel’s words show a real disdain for the victims of the scandal and all those who have worked so hard to support and get justice for them. And yet she has the audacity to talk about insults to the Windrush victims?!

  • Her words are dangerous, yet deliberate

Make no mistake: the Home Office, supported by the rest of the government, are waging war on the rule of law and, by extension, lawyers. Over the last few months we have seen incredibly inflammatory language being used by MPs and government ministers about lawyers when the courts make a decision they don’t like, for example the label of “activist lawyers.” The Home Office, in particular, has form for this and for trying to interfere with the judiciary.

In May, during the first lockdown, the Home Office had the gall to write to the President of the First-Tier Tribunal, Michael Clements, to express that it was “somewhat surprised” that tribunal judges were releasing so many people from detention on bail during the Covid-19 crisis. Now this is utterly disgraceful for two reasons, the first being the bail guidance as highlighted by President Clements in his response to the Home Office:

“In all cases involving people detained under immigration powers, the first reason for detention is to enable the immigration authorities to carry out their functions.  The primary function of detention is accordingly to facilitate removal and, unless there are very powerful reasons to the contrary, bail should be granted if there is to be no removal of the bail applicant within the reasonably foreseeable future.”

Considering that we were in lockdown and countries across the world had closed their airspaces, it is clear why so many people were being released on bail and that the judges were following the law and the guidance. But – and this is the second reason – even if the judges had erred, the Home Office has no right to write to the President of the First-Tier tribunal to influence their decision-making and request that judges provide “written reasons” for their decisions. Our judiciary is independent of the government – a fact that the Home Office had clearly forgotten and one that President Clements had to remind it of in the opening of his response.

On the subject of the #Jamaica50 flight, Chris Philp lamented lawyers making last minute attempts to frustrate the Home Office’s deportation efforts. In a statement Philp said, “It is disappointing that specialist immigration law firms continued to use last-minute tactics to remove a significant number of offenders from this flight.” Specialist immigration law firms. Last-minute tactics. Like these immigration law firms work specifically to frustrate the government. Essentially Philp is complaining because the Home Office were all set to take an action that was wrong – and they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those pesky lawyers.

This Tory government prizes itself as the party of law and order, yet simultaneously believes that the law should not apply to them. As the courts are having to constantly remind them that this is not the case, they’ve decided to push this narrative that they are the ones trying to do the right thing for the good of the British people, yet are being thwarted by “lefty lawyers.” Portraying lawyers who represent ordinary people as enemies of the state is obviously intended to fuel public resentment and generate uncritical support for the government. But what the government clearly doesn’t care about is that another effect of doing so is that it puts these lawyers in genuine mortal danger. The lawyers who were named in the Daily Mail’s article have received death threats and are having to step up security. Not only that, in September an immigration firm was targeted by a man with a large knife who planned to take one of the staff members hostage and encourage others to take similar action.  The firm blames Patel’s “activist lawyers” rhetoric, which the Law Society states it has since contacted the Home Secretary about. Not only has Patel ignored them, she’s doubled down on her remarks, which have been echoed by other members of government, including the Prime Minister who described criminal barristers as “lefty human rights lawyers.”

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this behaviour by the government is the stuff fascist states are made of, and we should all be very afraid.

Ok. So where do we go from here? What do we do?

On Friday, victims of the Windrush scandal along with Windrush campaigners published a response to Priti Patel’s outrageous comments, letting her know that she has no right to use their names in her nasty culture war. The work continues to oppose these deportation flights and to campaign for justice for the Windrush Generation.

What can you do? First of all, PAY ATTENTION. Outside of the immigration sphere (i.e. people who work/have a genuine interest in it), I’m not sure how much attention people really pay to what the Home Office does. Follow immigration lawyers/organisations that work in this area so you can keep up with what is going on, especially where Windrush is concerned. Accounts like Detention Action, BARAC UK, Free Movement and Centre for Migration Advice are a good place to start.

Secondly, loud it up. When the Home Office commits these egregious actions, we need more people to speak out about it. The government insists they are doing what the public wants, and we need to counter their dangerous narratives. Share the storeys, amplify voices, add your own voice.

Thirdly, when called to take action, do. Petitions will go around. There will likely be more protests (when they can be done safely). Get involved.

Also, watch this space. I will continue to write and post on social media about these issues, so follow me and share the info. The Home Office is an institutionally racist organisation that has long been a danger to immigrants. It is now, with the support of the government, a danger to us all.

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