When the former head of the Civil Service, Lord Bob Kerslake, remarked that some Ministers had compared the governments ‘hostile environment’ policy as reminiscent of “Nazi Germany” it was clear that ‘Windrush’ was more than an unintended consequence of government policy.
When policies are resisted by civil servants when colleagues within government highlight their concerns and policy impact assessments warn in black and white, then how can anyone possibly believe that any of this was, is, or continues to be failures within a system?
To deny awareness of the very real long-term consequences on people’s lives, not only adds insult to injury but is to deny that which is so blatantly true.
The Windrush scandal is an international disgrace, not only because the heavy hand of Home Office attention was felt by thousands rather than a few individuals as Amber Rudd would have it, but because it has revealed the deliberate purpose of a system designed “to target the low hanging fruit” as one official described it.
Make no mistake. This was intentional.
In its report earlier this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded, “the governments existing net migration target set at ‘tens of thousands’ is not working to build confidence or consent”, recommending for it to reviewed and replaced with an evidence-based framework.
The truth is, that by setting itself unreachable targets, it was bound to fail, and herein lies the problem.
The shameful reality is, this government embraced a negative argument instead of having honest conversations with our communities about migration.
Instead of addressing anxieties about the impact of immigration, it pandered to populism and reacted with a crude and meaningless number.
The more you pick at the Home Office policies over the last five years the more they seem to unravel, in the words of the chair of the select committee Yvette Cooper MP, “there’s more coming down the track”.
The ‘net migration target’ has been the foundation stone of everything that has followed.
In my short time as an MP, in relation to immigration, I have witnessed more than ‘windrush’. It wasn’t so long ago that the student visa scandal unfolded before me.
By refusing to remove students from the net migration target we have already seen international student numbers stagnate as government policy focus on their presence in the country rather than the contribution they make.
The fees they pay to keep universities running, contributing to local economies and university life, as well as the relationships they embody with the rest of the world, are surely what we can un-controversially describe as ‘positive migration’?
Only two months ago The Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways report showed that international students bring a net benefit of £18billion to the UK economy and have a positive impact in every region.
The creation of a deliberate hostile environment scuppers our ability as a country to attract the worlds brightest and best to our University’s in the competitive international market-place they now operate in.
Furthermore, today’s headline; ‘Migrant rules leaving NHS short of doctors’ is further indicative of how wrong this whole approach is, highlighted by Royal College of Physicians and many others. The NHS is experiencing record numbers of unfilled vacancies and a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses, exacerbated by a cap on the MTI scheme and restriction on Tier 2 Work Visa’s for qualified foreign workers. The EU referendum and government handling of Brexit discussions portrayed the same fixation on immigration numbers rather than social cohesion and economic growth.
This government is setting targets and restrictions in what it describes as “the national interest” but what I argue is that it is callous ‘party interest’, borne out of a fear of being exposed for what it really is, a party that has no control on immigration.
Since when did we become a country that treats fellow humans with such contempt, allowing mere numbers to obscure the long-term interests of our own country, our economic development, our image and our role in the world?
Culture takes years to ferment, and what ‘windrush’ has done is laid bare the fact that even a group of people who have historically been widely accepted and indeed respected rightfully as fellow Brits, became victims of what is an inherently racist approach which has brought international shame upon Britain.
The government’s position is that ‘Britain is open for business after Brexit’ but the pursuit of immigration targets have done untold damage to our image around the globe.
If there was ever an opportunity to reclaim what it means to be British this is it.
We are an open, tolerant and welcoming country and this government and the previous one have played on populism, and prayed on people’s fears at great personal cost to people who are not only a part of this country but who are as British as anyone else.
Let me be clear, this didn’t begin with Amber Rudd.
This is about leadership and taking responsibility.
There is no denying that she inherited this toxic culture, but she sure didn’t stop it either.
This requires more than an apology, more than corrective action, it requires a change of mindset.
No longer can this government or its Ministers deny and defend something which is economically and morally indefensible.