The Conservatives promise that the immigration system will be overhauled and made “more fair and compassionate”, noting that “what happened to the Windrush generation was horrific and we will ensure it never happens again”.
Ever since the government first apologised for the Windrush scandal 18 months ago, Conservative politicians have been promising to inject compassion into the immigration system, so this is a familiar, but as yet entirely unfulfilled pledge. Charity immigration advice workers say they see no sign of the arrival of a fairer or more compassionate regime. Given that Conservative home secretaries have been responsible for a notably uncompassionate immigration system for the past nine years, it is odd to be promising a radical overhaul of a system which they have created.
Campaigners are clear about what needs to be done – a restoration of legal aid for immigration cases and the reinstatement of key immigration appeal rights which were both removed during Theresa May’s time at the Home Office, and the repeal of the hostile environment policies introduced by the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. But there is no detail in the manifesto on how the system will be reformed and the Conservatives are unlikely to implement any of these changes.
Charity immigration advice workers say they see no sign of the arrival of a fairer or more compassionate regime
Instead, the document contains frequent repetition of the pledge to introduce a “fairer and firmer” Australian-style points-based system, with no clarity about what this means, beyond saying that the system will prioritise those who have a good grasp of English, have been law-abiding citizens in their own country, have good education and qualifications. The 2010 commitment to bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands has finally disappeared, replaced by a vaguer promise that “overall numbers will come down”.
There is no mention in the document of the hostile environment created by David Cameron and May, and no recognition that this was what caused the Windrush problem – but both Labour and the Lib Dems promise to scrap it. The Lib Dems also promise a compassionate immigration system, pledging to close seven of the UK’s nine immigration detention centres and commit to ending indefinite detention.
Labour will establish a “humane immigration system” and end the hostile environment. It promises to work with other countries to resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean and proposes to establish safe and legal routes for asylum seekers. There is a commitment to closing the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, an end to the indefinite detention of immigration detainees, and a proposal to grant the right to work for asylum seekers. will also repeal the Immigration Act of 2014, which introduced the right to rent checks (which the high court ruled were racially discriminatory earlier this year). Given that Labour produced branded mugs for the 2015 election campaign with the words “controls on immigration” printed above the slogan “I’m voting Labour”, this marks a significant shift.
• Amelia Gentleman is a reporter and author of The Windrush Betrayal, Exposing the Hostile Environment