Minister insists no British nationals on Jamaican deportation flight as MPs warn of fresh Windrush-style scandal
No British nationals will be on board a controversial deportation flight bound for Jamaica that is due to leave on Tuesday, the Government has insisted.
More than 170 MPs have urged ministers to postpone the flight following the leaked recommendations of a report on the Windrush scandal, which saw British nationals who had come to the UK decades ago deported to the Carribean.
But Home Office minister Kevin Foster told MPs on Monday that the flight set to leave the UK contained solely “foreign national offenders” - and took aim at MPs for championing the cause of people “sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison”.
The angry Commons row came as campaigners lost their High Court challenge to have the deportation flight cancelled.
A draft of a government-commissioned report into the Windrush scandal, leaked last week, called on ministers to consider ending the deportation of foreign-born offenders, particularly those who came to the UK as children.
MPs fear that some of those on the flight risk being wrongfully deported and have urged the Government to give guarantees that none of those set to removed arrived in Britain when they were children.
Raising an urgent question in the House of Commons, Tottenham MP David Lammy said there had been a cross-party “consensus” that the treatment of the Windrush generation had been unacceptable.
“This is a generation of people - thousands of them - who came to the country after the Second World War and gave so much but took so little," he said.
“Let me just remind the minister. 164 people were detained and deported, which the Government says it got wrong. On the back of that, 5,000 people were denied access to public services, healthcare, pensions, education: all that they were entitled to.
“Against that backdrop… the Government rightly set up the independent learning review led by Wendy Williams. In the wake of that, they suspended flights to Jamaica. So the question today is why have they resumed those flights?”
And he asked: “In light of the scandal of people who arrived in this country as children - how can he guarantee the House that there are not people on those flights who are actually British nationals?”
Mr Lammy said: “We are almost now two years on and people watching see the way that this government holds in such disrespect the contribution of West Indian, Carribean and Black people in this country. When will black lives matter once again?”
But Mr Foster pushed back, and insisted that all required checks had been carried out on those set to be deported.
He told MPs: “I have checked. There are no British nationals on that flight. And let’s be clear: the foreign national offenders on that flight have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison.
“The offences are, as we said, relate to everything from sex offending, serious drug trafficking offences, violent offences, firearms offences."
And Mr Foster added: “And I think to define the Windrush generation by this particular group of offenders is truly wrong.
“The Windrush generation should be defined by the midwife who delivered hundreds of babies, the person who travelled thousands of miles to work hard and provide for their family for decades.
“And I do think it’s absolutely remarkable now the lines being adopted opposite, that somehow it’s defined by those who have are serious or persistent criminal offenders being deported from this country.”
That drew anger from opposition MPs, with Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott accusing the minister of taking a “very dismissive attitude” to the question of deportations.
She warned: “His dismissive attitude suggests a dismissive attitude altogether to the concerns of the community and what is problematic about this mass deportation flight.”
Fellow Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, meanwhile demanded a breakdown of the sentences and offences of those on board the flight, as well as the ages at which they had come to the UK.
And she pressed the minister on reports that some of those on the flight had been unable to contact legal representatives because of a mobile communications failure.
The SNP’s Alison Thewliss, chair of the all-party group on immigration detention, said she was “deeply concerned” by the flight - and asked the minister if he was “aware of the outages of phone signal at Harmsworth and Colnbrook immigration removal centres”.
Mr Foster shot back: “It has to be said one [of those] on this flight was out doing a TV interview this morning so there is provility for communications provided.
“And again, we’ve met the legal thresholds, we’ve met the legal tests and ultimately this is about do we wish to deport serious or persistent offenders who have committed a range of offences?
“And I think many people will be watching with absolute astonishment at the attitude on the benches opposite.”