The Tories’ treatment of the Windrush generation of migrants was “consistent with some elements” of institutional racism, according to an official report.
The long-delayed Windrush Lessons Learned review, published on Thursday, said the 2018 scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable”.
The report found that Home Office’s “failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”. And while it said it was “unable to make a definitive finding of institutional racism”, the report said the failings are “consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.
Tens of thousands of people who had come from Britain’s former colonies between 1945 and 1973—and their descendants— faced the threat of deportation or loss of livelihood. The “hostile environment”, brought in by the Immigration Act 2014, meant people who had lived in Britain for decades found they didn’t have the required documentation.
The Immigration Act turned bosses, landlords and public sector bodies into border guards to make life harder for migrants.
The report is damning of the policies pushed by Theresa May. She was the home secretary who orchestrated the law, then prime minister when the scandal broke. It describes how the “language used to articulate policy goals became tougher” after the Tory-Liberal coalition government said its aim was to get down net migration in 2010.
“Following this direction from ministers,” it explains, “there was a debate about how radical they should be”.
By radical it means how far it went in clamping down on migrants. One special adviser, quoted in the report, said of a plan, “This is largely good, but I doubt it’s as radical as it can be.”
Across Whitehall departments officials “felt the principle of the government’s hostile environment policy was not up for question but that they were there to come up with solutions to make it happen”.
This focus meant that “a range of warning signs from inside and outside the Home Office were simply not heeded by officials and ministers”.
The hostile environment was the trigger, but the Windrush scandal is rooted in racist immigration laws pushed through by successive Tory and Labour governments. It says, “The causes of the Windrush scandal can be traced back through successive rounds of policy and legislation about immigration and nationality from the 1960s onwards”.
While the Immigration Act 1971 said the Windrush generation was allowed to live in Britain, they were “not given any documents” and “nor were records kept”.
The report’s author Wendy Williams called for “ministers on behalf of the department should admit that serious harm was inflicted on people who are British and provide an unqualified apology”.
Tory home secretary Priti Patel apologised in the House of Commons when the report was published.
But Patel is pushing through a more brutal, “points-based” immigration system and has restarted deportation “charter flights” to Jamaica.
The Tories justified the flight by claiming that those on board were “serious criminals”. They want to push through a divide and rule strategy that falsely paints some people as “good migrants” and others as “bad migrants”.
A previous leaked copy of the report said the government should consider stopping deportation of offenders who had come to Britain as children in all but the “most severe cases”.
This was not in the report—and is symptomatic of how the report doesn’t go far enough to demand dismantling the racist immigration system that produced the scandal.
Anti-racists have to find ways to keep up the fight to stop all deportations, shut down detention centres and for the right of people to stay.