This week I spoke out in Parliament about the Windrush scandal.
I did so because I believe what happened was shameful. The people who answered the call of the ‘mother country’ and came to our shores are British. They are here legally. They are part of the warp and weft of this nation, and have contributed so much to our economic, cultural and sporting life. That’s why it is upsetting to see them caught up in a wider drive to remove illegal migrants. The system should have been able to identify that, as pre-1973 entrants, Windrush Britons weren’t illegal and didn’t require documentation.
Quite rightly, there has been no attempt to duck this. The Government has apologised. Swift action is being taken to put things right. A taskforce has been set up to actively help those affected prove their status. Fees have been waived. Compensation arrangements are being made. And the rhetoric is being dialled down.
But some want to go further. They say we should give up on tackling illegal immigration altogether and turn a blind eye. I disagree. First, illegal immigration is highly corrosive, encourages ruthless traffickers, and exploits the most vulnerable. Second, it is deeply unfair on those, like the Windrush generation, who play by the rules and do the right thing. That’s why some of the loudest voices against illegal immigration are those lawful migrants who resent those who skip the queue or take short cuts.
No wonder then that governments of all stripes have talked tough on illegal immigration. The first NHS treatment charges for overseas visitors were introduced by Thatcher. But it was a Labour immigration minister, Liam Byrne, who spoke of aiming to “flush illegal migrants out” and “trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally.”
So we should not allow our shame over Windrush to hamper efforts to combat illegal immigration, and related people trafficking and slavery.
Instead we owe it to the people of this country, whether they are here from the Windrush generation or otherwise, to act coolly and calmly. And, above all, fairly.