Lessons from Windrush
This afternoon, Steve Double MP will lead a debate in Parliament about the status of the Windrush Generation and their right to remain, work and access services in our country.
When the ship MV Windrush docked at the Port of Tilbury on 22 June 1948, it brought the hopes and dreams of more than 500 passengers from the British West Indies, who had just been given Citizenship of the UK and Colonies under the 1948 British Nationality Act. Advertisements had appeared in local newspapers in Jamaica offering cheap transport for anyone who wanted to make a living in the UK. Amongst this group of British subjects, nearly half were former servicemen who wanted to return to the nation they were enlisted to fight for during the war, while others were simply attracted by the better opportunities offered by what they affectionately and proudly called the ‘mother country’.
The arrival of the Windrush passengers marked the beginning of a multicultural modern Britain. In the following decades, thousands from the Caribbean followed in their footsteps. Together they were called the Windrush Generation. Most intended to stay for a few years, save some money and return to the West Indies. However, as time passed the majority decided to remain and make this country their home. They married, raised families and built their lives here. Life for the Windrush Generation was often tough, but this was the generation that worked hard to overcome the many social, economic and cultural challenges of post-war Britain.
This was the generation that built the NHS. This was the generation that helped Britain re-emerge from the rubble of war as one of the most prosperous nations in Europe. We are rightly proud of this history and until a few months ago, there was no reason to imagine there were any questions over the right of these families to be here, and their place as our friends, neighbours and fellow citizens. Then the first stories started to appear in the media about how some children of the Windrush generation were being barred from hospital treatment because they were not considered to be British, or even being detained by immigration officials and told they had to leave the country. According to the Migration Observatory, as many as half a million people in the UK were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before the 1970s. Most of these are UK nationals, but an estimated 52,000 do not hold British citizenship and may have had their status questioned by the Home Office.
The Windrush Generation are people who responded to our invitation to come to this country as British subjects to help us rebuild our country. Their legal status as proud British Citizens should not have been put into question in the first place. They are not economic migrants or asylum seekers; they left their countries of origin as British citizens and entered the UK as British citizens. They have become an integral part of the social fabric of our nation. The Prime Minister and her Government have repeatedly apologised to them, and the Immigration Minister has personally assured me that she and her team are doing everything they can to help all members of the Windrush Generation obtain legal status in the UK. The Home Office has appointed a dedicated team to help the Windrush Generation establish their right to be here within two weeks of evidence being produced. They will not be required to pay any fees, be asked to take an English language test or the Life in the UK test when they apply for citizenship. In addition, an independently managed compensation scheme will be set up to compensate those who were wrongly denied travel documents, re-entry into the UK, ability to work and access to public services.
Going forward, both the Government and officials working at all levels of the Home Office must learn important lessons from the failures that have beleaguered the Windrush Generation. Whilst I do not believe that the changes in policy and the tightening of immigration processes was ever intended to have an impact on the Windrush Generation, this is a case of unintended consequences, these mistakes still should never have been allowed to happened. The reaction from the Home Office has been too slow; these issues should have been dealt with months ago. Ministers and Home Office officials must now focus on establishing the legal rights of the Windrush Generation and their descendants with all possible speed and ensuring that the administrative issue of missing documentation for our citizens never arise again.
EU citizens rights
With Brexit fast approaching, we have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to build an immigration system that works for everyone: A robust and competent immigration system that is also fair and humane to people legally seeking to enter or remain in this country. The Government is determined to get it right for EU citizens in the UK once we leave. It has announced that a new form of ID will be issued to EU citizens who wish to remain here, in order that they will have clear and secure documentation of their legal status. The Home Office must work hard to ensure that EU citizens who decide to stay here legally after Brexit know that they are welcome here and do not face similar treatment. We cannot afford for further mistakes to happen.
Good intentions are not good enough. In the case of the treatment of the Windrush Generation, well-meaning policies have had damaging consequences on the lives of our citizens. This is because the focus has been on policy and not people. Such a culture needs to be challenged. The Home Office needs to respect the rights of the individual and examine each case with great care and exercise discretion before coming to a judgement about their status. It is right that immigration needs to be managed, and at times will need to be robust; immigration cannot be uncontrolled. But managing immigration must never lose sight of the fact that at the end of all the policies and procedures are people, individuals and families. This will be challenging, but it is essential.
This afternoon I will be leading a debate in Parliament about the status of the Windrush Generation and their right to remain, work and access services in our country. This is in response to an online petition that has rapidly reached over 175,000 signatures. I believe we have a duty to ensure that the Windrush Generation know they are welcome here and that they belong here. We do not want any Commonwealth citizens who entered this country legally between 1948 and 1973, who has subsequently made their life in the UK, paid their taxes and contributed to our society, to be in any doubt about their legal right to remain in our country. But beyond that, we should now go above and beyond to make clear to everyone one of them: we want you to stay.
Steve Double is Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.