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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Diane Abbott

The Tories were never sorry about Windrush: Suella Braverman is the proof

Demonstrators demanding justice for the Windrush generation, Brixton, London, August 2021.
Demonstrators demanding justice for the Windrush generation, Brixton, London, August 2021. Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock

The home secretary, Suella Braverman, seems poised to dump a disturbing number of the 30 recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned review. An announcement is due to be made this week that 28 of the 30 recommendations are being formally “closed”, even though several have not been completed.

The Windrush scandal involved thousands of men and women, the earliest wave of postwar Caribbean migrants, suffering the trauma of being falsely accused of living in Britain illegally. As a result they were stripped of their entitlements as British citizens, detained, and even deported. In response to public outcry, the government commissioned a review led by the lawyer Wendy Williams. Last year she formally looked at progress since the original review. She found that only eight of her 30 recommendations had been fully implemented and that the Home Office had yet to implement the spirit of all her recommendations.

When the scandal first emerged, the then prime minister Theresa May apologised formally to all Caribbean countries. This was a good thing, but as Williams said in her review: “The sincerity of this apology will be determined by how far the Home Office demonstrates a commitment to learn from its mistakes by making fundamental changes to its culture and way of working that are both systemic and sustainable.” There have been no such fundamental changes. If anything, the Home Office appears to be going backwards on race and migration.

There may be at least two reasons why Braverman and prime minister, Rishi Sunak, want to drop the findings of the original Williams review. The obvious one is that Braverman and Sunak just do not care. The victims of Windrush are not their voters. The two of them can also argue that past events have nothing to do with them. It seems unlikely that the current prime minister, who with his wife has a net worth of £730m, would have much understanding or concern about a generation of working-class migrants.

But another reason to forget about the recommendations is that they are a threat to current government plans on migration in general and in particular their plans for people in small boats crossing the Channel to claim asylum. Sunak even made one of his five new year pledges “stopping the boats”. Williams’s review took as its point of departure the Windrush scandal, but made it clear that it would also deal with the overall culture of the Home Office and systems and procedures in relation to migration generally.

One recommendation was: “UK Visas and Immigration should ensure that where appropriate it builds in criteria for increasing direct contact with applicants including frequency of contact, performance standards and monitoring arrangements.” Dumping migrants more than 6,000 miles away in Rwanda and leaving the Rwandan government responsible for performance standards makes a joke of that recommendation.

Another was: “All policy submissions and advice to ministers should have mandatory sections on a) risks to vulnerable individuals and groups and b) equalities.” There can be few groups of people more vulnerable than asylum seekers who have risked their lives crossing the Channel in a rubber boat with only the clothes they stand up in. So it is safe to assume that this is another recommendation that has been ignored. Another proposal was to strengthen the role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. That did not happen either.

Also ignored is the advice to set up a strategic race advisory board, recruit a migrants’ commissioner and organise an ongoing series of reconciliation events. One thing that the government claims it will continue to do is pay compensation to victims of the Windrush scandal, but that has been a slow process. If the Home Office is formally abandoning most of the recommendations of the review, the danger is that such payments will slow even further.

Williams said that “migration and wider Home Office policy is about people, and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in human dignity”. But we currently have a home secretary who said: “I would love to have a front page of the Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda, that’s my dream, it’s my obsession.” So human dignity is the last thing on her mind. And of all the betrayals of the victims of the Windrush scandal, this must be the worst.

  • Diane Abbott has been the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.

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