N Touch
Thursday 16 August 2018
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Commentary

Seventy years after

REGINALD DUMAS

A FORMER UK High Commissioner to TT, Arthur Snell, has said that his government denied his TT-born son a British passport, I assume on the ground that the child was born outside the UK. Snell was able to sort out the problem quickly, but the fact that it happened at all is astounding.

I thought it was well known that a child born in a foreign country to a diplomatic family, which is there in a representative capacity, is automatically a citizen of the diplomat’s country, not of the country of birth.

The 1981 British Nationality Act recognises this distinction where the UK-born children of foreign diplomats are concerned. So, for instance, if a child is born in the UK to a diplomat of the TT High Commission in London, that child will not be a British citizen but a TT citizen. Perfectly normal. Why then was Snell, while he was representing Britain in TT, told by his government that his TT-born son was not a British citizen but, rather, a TT citizen? Where’s the logic?

But for the Windrush scandal, we wouldn’t have heard about Snell’s experience. Seventy years ago, in June 1948, the Windrush reached England with mostly West Indian immigrants aboard, and West Indians continued to arrive in the “mother country.” The UK National Archives says that between 1948 and 1970 “nearly half a million people left their homes in the West Indies to live in Britain … These people changed the face of modern Britain. They were all British citizens and, although they had never lived in Britain before, they had the right to enter, work and settle … if they wanted to.”

British citizens! I see.

“West Indians came to Britain for many different reasons,” the Archives website continues: “Some were seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children. Some came to work for a while, save money and return home. Some had been recruited because Britain was short of workers to run the transport system, postal service and hospitals. Other West Indians were returning soldiers who had fought for Britain during the Second World War (1939-1945).”

“These people” were often (if not generally) given the most menial of jobs: cleaners in underground stations, street sweepers etc. And, “British citizens” or not, they were often (if not generally) disdained by the locals.

The Archives again: “Many West Indians found that the colour of their skins provoked unfriendly reactions … Often, they were forced to accept jobs for which they were overqualified, or they were paid less than other white workers.

“(They) had to find cheap housing to rent near to their workplace … Even if they did have enough money to rent better quality housing, many had to face the fact that some landlords refused to rent to black people. They would be confronted with insulting signs in house windows that said ‘Rooms to Let: No dogs, no coloureds …’” (The Irish were frequently included, too.)

Such maternal sentiments from the “mother country!”

I went to England in 1954, but I was one of the “privileged” West Indians: I was going up to Cambridge University. Thus cocooned against the indignities daily visited upon Caribbean migrants, I and others like me watched in bemusement as race riots broke out in 1958 in Nottingham and Notting Hill. I write about that situation in my 2015 book, The First Thirty Years: a Retrospection.

Whatever the apologies from Theresa May and the just-departed Amber Rudd, the current bassa-bassa reminds us that the basic unwelcoming British attitude to foreigners on the whole (and non-white foreigners particularly) is alive and well: Brexit yesterday, Windrush generation today. Rudd shamelessly accused her own officials of over-enthusiasm in their implementation of her own government’s immigration and citizenship policy; they were the ones at fault, not she.

Within the doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility, I nonetheless thought she would have immediately resigned.

But wait: who introduced the policy? That’s right – it was May herself, as home secretary under David Cameron. Her aim was to make the UK a “hostile environment” for migrants to Britain, so they would “self-deport.” Was Rudd, a May ally, to take the fall for May? She seemed set to dig her heels in, but then she was found to have misled Parliament. She had to go.

May’s father was an Anglican clergyman. She appears to have only recently remembered the lessons of Christian charity he must have taught her.

But wait: what am I saying? Charity? A politician prioritising humanitarianism over votes? Windrush is a hiccup that politically embarrassed May, but her fundamental policy remains in place, and it is not unpopular with white Britons.

How, I wonder, will migrants and migrant-descended, especially Caribbean, line up in the next UK general election? If they haven’t already self-deported.

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