Windrush fiasco causes Commonwealth tension

Controversy over the Home Office’s treatment of the “Windrush Generation” has continued, overshadowing the meeting of Commonwealth leaders in London this week. The controversy arose when members of the so-called “Windrush Generation” (named after one of the first boats that brought many migrants to the UK) were denied jobs, access to the NHS and were threatened with deportation as they could not provide proof of citizenship, despite the Home Office destroying many of these records in 2010. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has faced calls to resign over the scandal, who has blamed a number of unnamed civil servants. Theresa May has also come under fire as she was Home Secretary when the records were destroyed. The anger has come largely from the treatment of elderly citizens, some of who have been in the UK for 70 years, who have been threatened with deportation to a place they have no family, accommodation or possible work.

It has also subsequently transpired that government documents as early as May 2016 acknowledged the impact that the “Hostile Environment” that Theresa May tried to create for illegal immigrants was affecting the Windrush generation. The Home Office has tried to discredit allegations that specific immigration policy was the issue, instead saying that it was an issue with procedure rather than legislation.

Numerous organisations have come out against the Government and in solidarity with those affected, including a number of immigration advocacy groups and humanitarian charity Amnesty International. The Labour party have also been putting pressure on the Home secretary and Prime Minister. Emily Thornberry, Labour’s foreign secretary, said she believes Amber Rudd should resign over the scandal, a suggestion supported by John Mcdonnell, the Shadow Chancellor.

Theresa May has responded to the controversy by pledging citizenship to those affected by the crisis, saying that the “These people [the Windrush generation] are British, they are part of us, they helped to build Britain and we are all the stronger for their contributions.” She promised compensation to those involved, which is suspected to go beyond payment of legal fees and will most likely acknowledge the anxiety caused over the affair. This was positively met by the Prime Minister of Grenada, who said that compensation should be “serious” and that people have suffered serious pain over it, and that if those affected had “gone”, the family should receive compensation for their suffering too.

The scandal has overshadowed the meeting of the Commonwealth in London this week, which was ostensibly a forum for Theresa May to showcase an image of a ‘Global Britain’. The Commonwealth, an organisation made up of former British colonial nations, has increased relevance in the age of Brexit, with the UK eager to secure preferential trade access. The Commonwealth summit was considered a key opportunity to re-establish links to ‘old friends’ as the UK prepares for a rocky EU departure. It has renewed fears over the immigration question in the post-Brexit world, with Guy Verhofstadt saying the reports were “deeply worrying”. It has been an incredibly difficult week for the Prime Minister and the government, who are still trying to appropriately steer the country through Brexit negotiations. It is a sign that you can’t take back what you have said before, and the “hostile environment”, that Theresa May sought to create for illegal immigrants may continue to haunt the already beleaguered Prime Minister so long as this issue remains in the public eye.


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Nick Stokes

February 2021
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