To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to mistakenly deport one British citizen may be regarded as a misfortune, but to mistakenly deport two looks like carelessness. Such an occurrence would be bad, very bad, for the reputation of the Home Office and whichever minister was leading it. But when current incumbent Sajid Javid appeared before the Home Affairs select committee yesterday, the numbers he pitched were just that little bit higher.
As the Guardian has reported, “Javid said the Home Office had identified 63 possible Windrush cases of wrongful removal and warned the number could rise … within the 63 people who could have been removed, 32 were labelled foreign national offenders and 31 were administrative removals - that is, enforced removals from the UK”.
And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here. One, no-one who arrived in the UK before 1973 should have been removed as a “foreign national offender”, because they were not foreign nationals. And two, excusing the deportation of British citizens with the phrase “administrative removals” is just plain chilling. On top of that are all the others who were rounded up and incarcerated in detention centres, also without cause.
The response was instantaneous; the adverse comment severe. Javid’s Labour shadow Diane Abbott mused “Imagine living in a country that wrongly deports its own citizens. Under Theresa May's hostile environment you don't have to imagine”, adding “Theresa May claimed as far as she was ‘aware’ none of the #Windrush generation had been deported but the Home Secretary has told us today that 63 people ‘could have’ been deported, how does the Government not know whether it has deported its own citizens?”
The impression of ineptitude covering up aggressive and hostile malpractice was inescapable. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan wanted answers. “Shocked to hear Home Sec has admitted to Parliament that 63 people from the #Windrush generation may have been wrongly deported. Govt must urgently provide answers on exactly how many have been affected, and what action is being taken to right this wrong”.
He was not alone in making that demand, as Tottenham MP David Lammy showed. “The Prime Minister needs to come to Parliament and explain how 63 British citizens were wrongfully deported on her watch. Truly a day of national shame”. But by this morning, Lammy had had another think about it - and he was not alone in doing so.
“Sending British citizens to the Caribbean without a pound in their pocket means that many will now be dead or destitute. They have been deported from a country with the NHS, our welfare state, their family and friends. Of course we need a Public Inquiry into how this happened”. And he had this to say to anyone wanting to argue otherwise.
“63 British nationals have been rounded up and sent across the ocean to the Caribbean. The Home Secretary said yesterday that this number could rise. Just because these people are working class and black it does not mean their lives do not matter & do not merit a public inquiry”. Just to head off the defensive press response.
The clamour for a public inquiry into the Windrush Generation scandal will only grow. So perhaps Theresa May can get ahead of the game for once - and order one right now.