Friday 13 December will undoubtedly go down in political history, signifying not only another five years of Tory-inflicted hardship but a day of mourning for the left and the Labour Party itself as it once stood under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
In an unprecedented chain of gains, the Tories triumphed and toppled Labour’s ‘red wall’ in its heartland mining towns, granting the Conservatives a landslide victory with the strongest majority in the House of Commons since Margaret Thatcher’s win in 1987. What a depressing foreshadowing for the next five years.
Nevertheless, whether or not the Tories won by default – the electorate perhaps deeming Corbyn’s leadership simply too radically left-wing, stained by the press’ relentless assault of antisemitism claims or whether the country is actually pro-Brexit – it hardly seems to matter at this point. Brexit is now steaming ahead under Boris Johnson’s leadership while the Labour Party (and the Liberal Democrats, for that matter) are left in heart-broken tatters.
“The Government can’t have their cake and eat it on immigration. If you go around saying ‘we only want the best and brightest’ or ‘we’re making it easier for nurses and teachers to come here’ then you actually have to relax barriers to immigration across the board.”David Gering-Hasthorpe, immigration lawyer
Remain lost, but so did the vulnerable, the environment, the disabled, the NHS, the homeless, WASPI women and single mothers, Europeans, asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants. However, now is not the time to sow seeds of division: bridges need to be built, the disillusioned working-class reached out to and Momentum’s mudslinging brought to its bitter end. The majority of the electorate are not xenophobic, although some certainly are, but winning over ‘hearts and minds’ with such rhetoric is clearly never going to work.
The outcome now is that newly elected Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, emboldened by his overwhelming 326 seat majority, has complete manoeuvrability to push through his Brexit deal, impose an ‘Australian style’ system and crunch down on net migration numbers, despite the latter failing former PM, Theresa May year on year. The fear is that unscrupulous decision-makers will continue to act with impunity and without accountability for the misery they inflict on migrants and their families under an even stricter system. Who’d of thought it could get any worse?
Over Christmas, Johnson intends on reshuffling cabinet members and reforming departments. The first in the firing line is Borders and Immigration with Johnson allegedly hoping to separate the responsibilities from the Home Office into a third-party, sorting through the new post-Brexit visa rules and to “improve security”.
“It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and the best and brightest will end up going somewhere more welcoming.”David Gering-Hasthorpe, immigration lawyer
Yet the absence of detail in the newly reformed department coupled with Johnson’s track-record of racism, Islamophobia and migrant bashing, leaves lawyers, charities and campaigners fearing the worst. They are all-too-familiar with the shortfalls of outsourced responsibilities as VFS Global and Sopra Steria has proved inadequate time and time again. As such private companies rake in millions in profit, they offer a substandard, ill-equipped service at the expense of vulnerable people being shoved through it. And this doesn’t include the mysterious and secretive ‘traffic light’ computer algorithm the Home Office has reportedly used to grade applicants with that legal professionals find astoundingly discriminatory by nature.
Any reform to the immigration arrangement would clearly have to be scrapped from the bottom up to consign the ‘hostile environment’ to the history books and May’s legacy once and for all. But this is a move which Priti Patel as Home Secretary doesn’t seem remotely interested in following through. In fact, she almost seems to take over the gauntlet with pleasure, setting alight migrant rights and their protections with it.
The problem is few have faith that the current Conservative government at the wheel will dismantle its old ways.
There are multiple, contradictory holes in Johnson and his cabinet’s approach to immigration. While he blathers away about encouraging talent, including doctors and nurses and scientists to migrate to the UK, only last week Johnson suggested EU migrants are unwelcome on the basis that they ‘treat the UK’ as their own country. The week before that, Johnson seemingly slipped up to say “people of colour” coming to the UK should be “democratically controlled” – a blunder he outright denied and forced Channel 4 to apologise for defamatorily framing him. He claims to have said ‘people of talent’, which is in direct conflict with his migration moto that he spread far and wide along the campaign trail which is to open the gates to skilled workers and ram them shut again for everyone else. So what is it, Boris?
David Gering-Hasthorpe, an immigration lawyer at the Immigration Advice Service, said:
“The Government can’t have their cake and eat it on immigration. If you go around saying ‘we only want the best and brightest’ or ‘we’re making it easier for nurses and teachers to come here’ then you actually have to relax barriers to immigration across the board.
“If you make immigration harder for people’s parents and grandparents, children and friends, then they won’t come. If you stop communities – church, cafes, shops selling food from back home – from establishing [in the UK], nurses and teachers won’t want to move here.
“Think about how it feels to be told ‘we want you, but not anyone else from where you’re from.’ It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and the best and brightest will end up going somewhere more welcoming.”
However, the new system actually does have the potential to be ground-breaking if it somehow turns out to be fairer than the current operation in place. After all, 96 per cent of Home Office misconduct complaints were made about the Government’s immigration department last year while the Home Office has become infamous for segregating families under the Spouse Visa rules and unlawfully detaining victims of torture and modern slavery indefinitely in its removal facilities. Even British-born children are denied their legal right to citizenship due to, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) said in July this year, an “unduly heavy-handed approach” by immigration officials combing through their applications. African applicants further face higher levels of visa refusals than any other demographic, causing critics to claim the Home Office is rife with systematic racism as it emerged world-renowned researchers and scientists have even been denied entry with their refusal letters claiming to disbelieve their acclaimed status and foothold in their field of work. Similarly, EEA academics currently dealing with the EU Settlement Scheme are having problems claiming their settlement rights.
It boils down to whether the electorate and residents in the UK can trust Johnson to restore humility, dignity and fairness to those less fortunate than himself.
The problem is few have faith that the current Conservative government at the wheel will dismantle its old ways. In fact, Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, said it is possible that dissolving Home Office responsibility in immigration matters could be a positive move but that the current climate of hostility amid a department hell-bent on “driving numbers down” paves the way for a second Windrush-style fiasco.
Khan doesn’t have confidence that this approach will benefit applicants: “They’re not going to look holistically at the human beings in front of them”, he said. But, he continued, “We’ve said before that it’s time to shut the Home Office down. But as long as the attitude is sceptical, and as long as it’s about driving numbers down, the institutional machinery doesn’t really matter.”
Some such as Tanja Bueltmann, an academic specialising in migration, fear the proposals could give “the hostile environment even more oomph” – especially since the US relies on its notorious outsourced system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) that has been far from kind to migrants and even young children.
It boils down to whether the electorate and residents in the UK can trust Johnson to restore humility, dignity and fairness to those less fortunate than himself. However, even if we don’t – as Johnson’s first working day after the win already pledges to dilute workers’ rights and environmental safeguards – the sad reality is that we don’t have much of a choice.
It certainly doesn’t bode well that the Tories are resolute in implementing an even stricter ‘Australian’ style system when already the points-based process only allows working migrants to move to the UK while earning no less than £30,000. Vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers are further pent up in juxtaposed ports, starved from the opportunity of seeking a better life unless they’re willing to physically risk it to sneak into the UK.
Everyone will be watching and hoping with bated breath these next few months. But certainly, the air feels deflated and unpromising. A black cloud hangs over us all. The fight for a fairer country, equal society and honourable justice system trudges on.
Main image credit: AFP via Getty Images, the Independent.