Anti-racists welcomed Diane’s Abbott pledge that a Labour government would end the Tories’ “hostile environment” for migrants—and wouldn’t “run scared” of the right wing press.
The shadow home secretary’s speech on Wednesday marked a sharp break with Labour’s past support for the right’s racist scapegoating. “The Labour Party is under new management,” she said. “And part of that management is having a very different conversation on migration that we’ve had in the past decades”.
Her plans to overhaul immigration policy include stopping indefinite detention and shutting down Yarl’s Wood and Brook House. Britain is the only European country where detainees can be locked up indefinitely in one of its 13 immigration prisons.
“People are being kept in detention for months, even years on end,” said Abbott. “They include the Windrush Generation, victims of torture, refugees and victims of sexual exploitation.”
Abbott’s announcement came in the week that HM Inspectorate of Prisons raised “serious concerns” after observing the removal of 23 asylum seekers from two immigration removal centres.
Its findings provided further evidence of the brutal and degrading treatment of migrants and refugees. It found that guards used force against eight asylum seekers who resisted attempts to deport them and others were subjected to “excessive use of restraint”.
The removal was being run by guards provided by Tascor—part of outsourcing giant Capita. Abbott said, “Labour will end this rotten system—private firms have no business in detention.”
Abbott’s speech hinted that Labour would scrap the Immigration Act 2014, a cornerstone of the hostile environment. “The next Labour government will repeal all those parts of the immigration legislation that were introduced to support it,” she said.
“We will rescind all Home Office to carry it out and we will remove all obligations on landlords, employers and others to enact it.”
The Labour leadership’s renewed confidence to take on arguments over immigration comes after outrage at the Windrush scandal. Abbott’s speech is a big step forward—and anti-racists should use it to push further.
Every year around 30,000 people pass through 13 immigration prisons in Britain—a Labour government should shut down all of them. And it should halt all deportations and give all asylum seekers indefinite leave to remain and defend freedom of movement for
To achieve that means building a mass movement against racism.