A culture of secrecy infects all areas of this government
It’s time to end the chaos at the Home Office and restore a sense of order and trust, says Diane Abbott
Leaked documents, misconceived policies, suppressed reports, judicial condemnations, false statistics and ‘accidental’ deportations – the summer recess was hardly a period of calm for the Home Office.
Grenfell survivors are still living with the threat of deportation, deaths in police custody continue, police stations are being closed and the fire service continues to be run down.
The Home Office is the government department primarily responsible for the safety and security of our citizens. Yet under the Tory government, the failure to exercise this duty is exposed across all fronts.
Each of these failings must be addressed thoroughly and urgently. But they also appear to be symptomatic of a deeper malaise, which must be rooted out to prevent a recurrence of this chaos.
Departments have their priorities set by the government of the day. It has been the priority of this government and its predecessor to reduce immigration, within the unworkable and reactionary goal of limiting net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’. This has been the main priority of this government, even while cutting Border Force personnel, along with the numbers of police and firefighters.
This impossible objective should not really be regarded as a policy, more a permanent campaign to demonise immigration and immigrants. This is the purpose of artificially inflating the numbers of overstaying international students. It is supplemented by a Prevent programme which vilifies a whole community.
Literally hundreds of MPs will know through their casework for constituents that the handling of visa, immigration and other applications is extraordinarily complex, painfully slow and highly arbitrary. Yet institutional departmental delay in processing claims is replaced with roughshod vigour when it comes to enacting deportation orders.
The pace of deportations of EU nationals is soaring, although it is still well below the level of non-EU deportations. Owners of restaurants serving Asian food have written to the Home Office complaining that they are being unfairly targeted for illegal immigration.
This in turn breeds a culture of secrecy as ministers attempt to escape all scrutiny and accountability. I have made repeated attempted to make a visit to the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and have effectively been refused, despite raising this with the Commons authorities.
This culture of secrecy infects all other areas. So, reports into deaths in police custody, on the international funding of terrorism which may aggravate the Saudi royal family, into the effects of racism and on the impact of international students are all suppressed.
Labour in government will end this chaos. We will not set arbitrary and unworkable immigration targets. We recognise the invaluable contribution that migrants make to our society, to all areas of our public and social life, and to our economy. We will introduce a new immigration system to reflect those very different values.
We will end the targeted harassment of EU and non-EU nationals alike and begin to treat them both fairly. We will also uphold the right to a family life, in contrast to current rules and practice, which denies UK citizens the right to reunite their families if they happen to be married to a non-UK citizen.
We are committed to begin reversing cuts made by the Tories in police numbers, in the fire service and in the Border Force personnel. We will also review the priorities of the security services to ensure the greatest possible resources are devoted to combatting terrorism here.
Finally, we will establish a new Home Office-led agency to coordinate the response to tragedies like Grenfell, and impose solutions on recalcitrant bodies where necessary.
This government’s priority is the scapegoating of others for their own failings. Labour’s priority is the security and wellbeing of the entire population.
Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and shadow home secretary