Last week, Boris Johnson’s Tory government deported 17 people to Jamaica, due to past crimes for which jail time had already been served. Many of these people have lived in Britain for their entire lives; they have families and children here; and have not set foot in their newly-enforced country of residence since childhood.
This was a vindictive, hypocritical and blatantly racist ruling. It is part of an attempt by the Johnson administration to stir up nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments in order to shore up its shaky position.
In addition to the 17 people eventually deported, a further 25 were taken off the flight at the 11th hour as a result of a court order. This originated over concerns that these individuals had not been given adequate legal counsel before the government attempted to ship them abroad. The Home Office is already taking steps to appeal against this court order, however.
The deportations have been met with an outcry from Labour politicians (including leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey), trade unionists (including Zita Holbourne of PCS), and the public. Many are pointing out the similarities between these recent events and the Windrush scandal last year, which also saw decades-long residents of the UK booted out of the country, or left fighting to remain.
The heartlessness shown towards the Windrush generation by Theresa May - whose schedule was famously too “full” to attend a meeting on the scandal with representatives from former colonies in the Caribbean - and this latest outrage from the Johnson government show a continuingly callous attitude from the Tories towards minorities and migrant communities.
The report on the Windrush scandal - supposed to have been released on 31 March last year, and then delayed until September - has still not emerged. One wonders what skeletons lie within.
These incidents are not isolated events, but are part of a general hardening of Tory policy towards migrants.
Last Thursday, news broke that a Serbian-born British citizen Fatush Lala was forced to sleep on the streets of Brussels for a week after the Home Office revoked his passport without warning – again, without the right to legal defence. In another particularly Kafkaesque instance, a 101-year old Italian man was asked by the Home Office to have his (long deceased) parents confirm his ID!
My constituent Fatush Lala, who had a British passport, has been made stateless by the Home Office without warning on return from holiday.— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) February 13, 2020
He's now stranded & homeless in Brussels. It's inhumane and illegal for any country to make its citizens stateless.https://t.co/s9inGddNZn
It is no coincidence that all this is happening so soon after ‘Brexit Day’. Johnson and his Cabinet cronies - particularly the arch-reactionary Home Secretary Priti Patel - want to whip up support on the basis of xenophobic talk about being “tough on immigration” and shouting about “foreign criminals”.
This is a continuation of previous Conservative commitments to create a “hostile environment” for migrants, designed to divide the working class and distract from Tory austerity.
In response to the court order, a government spokesman said: “We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove serious foreign national offenders.”
Criminals or victims?
The deportees - most of whom have lived in the UK since they were children - have all served full jail terms, mostly for non-violent offences such as drug possession and dangerous driving.
Tayjay, a 24-year-old man who was also set to be deported last week, has lived in the UK since he was five. He was a victim of county lines grooming, for which he served a single drugs-related offence – nearly five years ago. He has not reoffended since. Clearly, he is not a danger to society.
In fact, for many, the crime that has sealed their fate was their first and only offence.
Most of those deported have no family or life to go to in Jamaica. Several have British children, who will now be left without a parent. Howard Ormsby, for example, is a father of five, and has lived in the UK since he was 15. He was convicted for possession of Class A drugs. “I have all my family here – I have no-one in Jamaica,” he said in an interview with BBC News.
The double standards here cannot be overstated, given the sketchy records of the establishment politicians involved.
As pointed out by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Prime Ministers’ Questions last week: Johnson was himself born on foreign soil (in the USA), moving to the UK as a child. And the PM has also admitted to using Class A drugs. He was additionally caught on tape plotting to help a fellow Etonian have a journalist assaulted.
So, what is the difference between Boris Johnson and Ormsby, or the others sent to Jamaica? Why must they be flown thousands of miles away while Johnson sits comfortably in Number 10 Downing Street?
The answer is, of course, that Boris Johnson is a bourgeois, Eton-educated politician, whilst the deportees are working-class and black. Many were actually eligible for citizenship, but were unable to afford the fees, leaving them without the legal protection that citizenship offers.
This is the reality of Tory rule, and a sign of what is to come under Johnson’s new government: abuse of minorities and attacks on the working class.
So why is this happening?
The truth is that Boris Johnson and his government of the rich are unable to carry out the promises they made in the general election. Ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid’s planned five percent budget cuts, for example, will disproportionately target northern seats - those places where people ‘lent’ Johnson their vote in order to “Get Brexit Done”.
With the economic forecast looking ever-bleeker, we can expect these attacks on minorities and the working class to become more and more intense. Without even crumbs to offer ordinary people, the Tories will attempt to whip up jingoism and xenophobia, in an effort to divide the working class and distract from the government’s own failures.
This scandal also highlights how fragile our hard-fought-for freedoms really are under capitalism. If individuals can be stripped of their legal rights and protections when the occasion suits, who is to say these same tactics won’t be turned against other layers of the working class in the future?
The truth is that legal rights and protections - and bourgeois laws in general - are just window-dressing for the rule of capital. Without an organised struggle from the labour movement, they can and will be taken away at a moment’s notice, at the whim of the ruling class.
In truth, this Tory government is on very thin ice. Further austerity and attacks will soon cause any post-Brexit euphoria to evaporate.
This kind of racist posturing might appeal to certain layers of the Tories’ support base for now. But, as the economic crisis deepens, future cuts and attacks will lead to millions of workers turning against Johnson and the Tories.
The labour movement must stand in solidarity with migrants against Tory racism, and organise a socialist fightback. This means making the case forcefully for open borders; stepping up efforts to organise workers, both migrant and native-born; and pointing the finger at the real cause of scarcity - capitalist austerity, not immigration.
The enemy of the British working class is not migrant labour - it is the bosses and their big business representatives in government; those who have carried out devastating attacks on workers’ rights so that they can protect their profit margins.
Workers of all countries: unite! Fight the Tories and the bosses! Fight racism! Fight capitalism!