The hostile environment, Brexit, the new immigration system and the end of freedom of movement reflect the will of the people. Do they really?

There’s a common narrative that the British people desire less immigration, and that the hostile environment, Brexit, and ending freedom of movement, reflect the will of the people.

But do the British people, for one thing, really want the Hostile Environment? I do not think so, because British people do not understand the full extent of what it involves.

Let’s look at a few recent examples, which I more or less randomly plucked from recent news:

1. Hundreds of highly-skilled immigrants, including teachers, doctors, engineers, have been threatened by deportation because of legal amendments they made to their tax returns. These are skilled high earners, allegedly the brightest and best the UK would wish to attract post-Brexit. The Home Office misuses a terrorism-related clause to force these people out. One of these skilled migrants is Nisha Mohite, a cancer specialist, who lost her job, her house, is now deeply in debt, and could not use the NHS, while she fought the UK’s decision to reject her application for Indefinite Leave to Remain, all because she made a legal amendment to her tax returns. She and hundreds of others had little choice, because if you accept the Home Office’s decision you cannot get a visa for travel to any other country.

Is this what British people want?

2. Back in October, the Home Office was keen to deport an Australian citizen who was brought to the UK for his expertise in purification as an engineer; they were so keen to send him away that they would send four medics on his flight to accompany him because his health was so poor they feared he might die en route.

Is this what British people want?

3. It is virtually impossible for British citizens and non-EU citizens to bring over their elderly, dependent parents so they can care for them in their old age (see this thread by a lawyer). If you’re not a British citizen and you decide to go and care for your parents in their country (seeing you cannot bring them over), you could lose your Indefinite Leave to Remain, as the Singaporean Irene Clennel found out. The route to have your elderly parents join you is now essentially closed off, even though very few people (only about 2,000 or so per year, negligible in terms of population growth or even strain on the NHS) entered the UK in this way. If you apply and are rejected to come and live with your British or non-EU children, don’t even think about coming to the UK on a visitor visa as you will be deemed at risk of wanting to stay in the UK.

Is this what British people want?

4. In spite of widespread outrage about the Windrush Scandal, as I am writing this, dozens of Caribbean nationals are being deported from the UK on chartered planes, many have lived here for decades and have British children.

Is this what British people want?

5. Having British children counts for nothing if you want to stay in the UK if you are a non-EU national. The UK has one of the least family-friendly, most restrictive immigration regimes in the world. An estimated 40% of women do not make the £18,600 per year minimum income threshold required to have your non-EU spouse live with you. As a result, thousands of children grow up seeing their non-EU parent (often their father) on Skype. You can read more about Skype families and the detrimental effect on child and family wellbeing here. Read testimonies of what happens to children when one of their parents is being forcibly removed from the UK, e.g., [My son] went from a bubbly little boy to very reserved in the first few months of the separation, he was angry at us both but couldn’t understand why Dad won’t want to live with him. He would go from angry kicking out to long periods of cry and thought Dad didn’t love him.” (Mother, son aged 6.)

Is this what British people want?

6. Speaking of Skype families, David Cameron got concessions on immigration from the EU, back in February 2016 from the EU. One of those concessions was that UK nationals returning from the EU27 to the UK could no longer use a given legal route that meant they were exempt from the £18,600 income threshold. Thanks to the EU’s concessions (basically, OK you can treat your own citizens harshly) to Cameron, if you met your Colombian husband in Cologne, and wanted to go back to Canterbury you now need to meet the minimum income threshold. “Is British woman returning to Basingstoke from Budapest with a Brazilian husband such a threat to the integrity of the UK that Cameron had made it a key negotiating priority to keep them out? It turned out it was and that the EU had agreed to it because Cameron needed a “win” on “immigration.””, as Fiona Godfrey from British in Europe writes.

Surveying this random list, one may ask: in how far do British people really want these immigration rules and policies?

By and large, British people do not know these rules. They do not have the technical know-how or the political clout to install all these rules. In part, this lack of knowledge is caused by a privileged ignorance of the struggles that non-EU citizens currently face in this country (as I will write in a future post).

If you flesh it all out and look at it in concrete detail, what it means to actual people, how many British people would be on board with all this? The widespread outrage over Windrush illustrates that the hearts of ordinary British people are thankfully not as hardened as that, but sadly, the general apathy over immigration and the lot of immigrants has not converted itself into a broader movement against the Hostile Environment.

What we have is a well-off, comfortable political clique that is translating its xenophobia into governmental policy, but that justifies their racist policies by appealing to some left-behind white working class people. This narrative of the white left-behind has now become the fig leaf for racist politicians.

But who has invented rules that mean you can deport someone for amending their tax returns? Who has shaped income policies so thousands of children don’t grow up with their mum or dad? Who is deporting, as we speak, after the outrage, Windrush-Generation citizens? It’s not working-class people from Stoke-on-Trent who feel left behind installing these cruel policies. They do not have the ability or the expertise to do so.

Instead, it’s members of the almost 100% white British upper class (the most ethnically homogeneous of all segments of society) who have installed these policies.🔷

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(This piece was originally published on Medium. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)

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(Cover: Flickr/Alisdare Hickson - Silence is compliance - A protester with a message standing on a window ledge in Whitehall during the anti-Trump ban march from the US embassy to Downing Street. | 4 Feb 2017. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)