In 2018, on the 70th anniversary of the arrival the Empire Windrush, the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s abhorrent ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, and the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the tragic but incontestable reality is that Britain still has huge progress to make with race relations and migration. The Windrush scandal was more than a unique mistake caused by officials – it was a disgraceful and as yet unresolved display of a toxic and racist undercurrent driven by public alarm over immigration.
The relationship between Britain and the Caribbean runs back all the way to 1623, and despite slavery and colonisation 25,000 Caribbeans volunteered to serve in the First World War and Second World War alongside British troops. When my ancestors arrived in this country under the Nationality Act of 1948, they arrived as British citizens. They were British subjects not because they came to Britain, but because Britain came to them, took their ancestors across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. The connection between Britain and colonised countries was created by the former, which makes it all the more appalling to see individuals who helped rebuild this shattered nation in the post-war period be rejected, caged, turned into prisoners by their own country and disqualified as British.
The campaign for justice for the Windrush generation is not just about politics. It is about a burning injustice that stretches from 10 Downing Street into the lives of thousands of British citizens. At its heart is a ‘hostile environment policy’ designed by Theresa May to reduce immigration figures and appeal to the right-wing of the electorate. The effect was to dehumanise, demonise and victimise British citizens in a race to the bottom. It is this policy that barred British citizens from accessing the public services and benefits from a welfare system that they themselves built with their own hands, and that they staffed and paid for through tax and National Insurance contributions. This policy turned employers, doctors, landlords and social workers into border guards. It is the same policy that makes people effectively guilty unless proven innocent – an inhumane treatment which blurs the lines and denies thousands of Commonwealth British men and women their rights. To lose your job, have your driving licence revoked and lose your right to housing is to systematically lose your identity. When we place targets over people we can expect nothing less. Desperate attempts to bring down the immigration figures led the government to endanger some of the most vulnerable people, families and communities in this country.
As a campaigner, on 15 April I coordinated a letter to Theresa May co-signed by 140 MPs calling for the PM to take urgent action. On 16 April, I secured an Urgent Question in the House of Commons calling on the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to make a statement on the status of Windrush citizens in this country. On 28 April, I coordinated another letter to the Prime Minister alongside Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, which was co-signed by 200 MPs. This called on the government to enshrine the rights of the Windrush generation in law. With the government still failing to resolve the issue adequately, on 11 May I wrote to the Home Secretary, demanding that all submissions to the Windrush compensation scheme consultation should be treated as anonymous and not passed to immigration enforcement.
Since bringing the issue onto the public agenda, I have continued to be outspoken on the treatment of the Windrush generation, urging the Home Secretary to offer a hardship fund for victims and a comprehensive compensation scheme. Moving forward, I will continue to fight for the British men and women who are under attack from this policy, which was fuelled by a toxic, anti-immigrant rhetoric and panders to cowards that blame immigrants for government failures. We’re all British – this is a multi-ethnic country with a long history. I will continue to assert the rights of British citizens because no one should be disqualified from owning their identity no matter what their skin colour.
Written by David Lammy
David Lammy has been the Labour Member of Parliament for his home constituency of Tottenham since 2000. David was born in Tottenham in 1972, one of five children raised by a single mother. David was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1994, practised as a barrister in England and the United States and became the first black Briton to study a Masters in Law at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1997. David served for 8 years (2002-10) as a Minister in the last Labour government, including as Culture Minister and Higher Education Minister, and was appointed to the Privy Council in 2008. David is one of Parliament’s most prominent campaigners for social justice. David is also a regular contributor to national newspapers and publications including The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, New Statesman and others, and appears regularly on television and radio.