Home Secretary rows back on Windrush reforms

Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT 'Empire Windrush' landed them at Tilbury. Credit: PA

Words by ITV News Assistant News Editor Christopher Olaniyan

As the country prepares to mark 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush brought more than 1,000 people to help rebuild post-war Britain, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the Home Office have confirmed they will ditch three key commitments made in light of the Windrush scandal.

In March 2020, Wendy Williams presented 30 recommendations to Parliament from the independent lessons learned in a review into the Home Office and it's handling of events leading up to the Windrush scandal, which saw hundreds of people who spent the majority of their lives in Britain stripped of their rights in the country.

This U-turn comes in spite of former home secretary Priti Patel’s pledge to implement the 30 recommendations in full.

Ms Braverman has dropped all plans to establish the post of migrant’s commissioner, to hold reconciliation events for the Windrush community, and to strengthen the post of the inspector of borders and immigration.

Ms Williams advised that, without a commissioner, the department “risks undermining its stated commitment to transparency and effective policy making, as well as the efforts to rebuild its reputation”.

David Neal, the current Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), expressed his disappointment that the Windrush Lessons Learned Review’s recommendation to extend his powers will not be met.

This decision has been met with criticism by the head of the Windrush inquiry and those impacted by the scandal.

Under Rishi Sunak’s new migrant plan, the Home Office has confirmed that it will be reviving policies that were authorised under Theresa May’s leadership.

They echo the "hostile environment" policy, which critics say allowed the Windrush scandal to flourish.

This includes allowing data sharing between banks and the home office, with the intention of closing banking accounts and limiting access to the NHS and education for individuals who are undocumented.

The Windrush Scandal ruined the lives of many - most of whom were of Caribbean descent who only knew Britain as their home.

Recently, the scandal has been depicted at the Park Theatre in London.

Musical drama ‘On the Ropes’ depicts the life of legendary black British boxer Vernon Vanriel and is on show until 4 February.

Born in Westmoreland Jamaica, he came to Britain aged six in 1962, under the 1948 Commonwealth Nationality Act.

This granted citizens of former British colonies permanent residency and citizenship.

At the height of his career, the boxer fought multiple times at the Royal Albert hall.

The 67-year-old was a credit to his black community; tickets for his matches were sold at a cheaper rate so they can watch him fight. This life came to an end when he found himself caught up in the Windrush Scandal.

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Mr Vanriel went to Jamaica to visit his family in 2005.

Like many others who arrived in Britain during the Windrush era, he identified solely as British.

From 1973, changes to the UK’s immigration policies meant that citizens of former British colonies were no longer granted indefinite leave to stay.

Unknown to the Windrush generation, no records were kept stating the immigration status of these individuals; in turn, this left them classed as undocumented.

This issue first came to light in 2018 when British citizens who were mostly descendants of the Caribbean were detained, deported, under review for deportation and had the rights as a British citizen’s questioned and denied.

Consequently, many lost their homes, their jobs and were denied access to the NHS. This was seen as especially insulting to those whose families came to Britain to build the NHS.

The cross government ‘hostile environment’ policy was designed to limit the impact of migration on British public services.

Vernon Vanriel was left in limbo for years, unable to return home after travelling to Jamaica. Credit: Seán Anthony

Suddenly, victims such as Mr Vanriel were expected to prove their Britishness.

In spite of Mr Vanriel living in Britain from the age of six, his return home was put on hold for over 13 years.

This was on the grounds that he didn’t have a British passport and had spent more than two years away from the UK in Jamaica.

During the time he was shunned from his home, he lived in a roadside shack not fit for human habitation, homesick, and had endured multiple health issues. He was only able to return to the UK in 2018 following the intervention of his MP, David Lammy.

The musical drama ‘On the Ropes’ illustrates his life of struggle in 12 metaphorical rounds - each conveying his life from infancy to his return to the UK with full rights as a British citizen.

I spoke to one of three stars of the play, actress Amber James.

"Britain wouldn't be what it is without the Windrush generation" says actress Amber James. Credit: Steve Gregson

Speaking about the significance of the play, she said: “I think that the most significant thing to take from Vernon’s life is that injustice should never win. What to take away from Vernon is that he kept fighting. He always knew in his heart who he was. He was never going to let that go. Vernon defined light in the darkness. That is something that he definitely did that we can all be inspired to do."

In the play, music is an integral part of it.

Ms James added: “The story can get dark very quickly; music is a release for both the audience and the actors." She reminisces on the emotional journey that she goes through every night and the benefit of song.

Ms James, from southeast London, is a descendant of the Windrush generation.

'Britain wouldn’t be what it is without the Windrush generation; I wouldn’t exist' says actress Amber James

Her grandparents came here in the 1960's along with other Caribbean families as part of Britain’s drive to rebuild the country after the Second World war.

In starring in the musical drama, she cries that she “finally gets to do something for them that pays homage to them which is vital”.

When she was asked how British she feels, she stated “being British does not mean that you have to be wrapped round in British flags and union jacks all the time. It is about multiculturalism.”

In the wake of the Windrush scandal, her concern was with her parents and uncles - as one of them had a Caribbean passport at the time. She recounts as many children came to the country on their parent’s passport.

In response to the Home Office’s decision to U-turn on the Williams’s recommendations, the actress gave her concerned account that a violation such as the Windrush scandal could happen again. She says she wants to “find hope that we will always find a sense of belonging; everybody should feel that they belong here.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We remain absolutely committed to righting the wrongs of Windrush and have paid or offered more than £64 million in compensation to the people affected.

“We are making progress towards the vast majority of recommendations from Wendy Williams’ report, and believe there are more meaningful ways of achieving the intent of a very small number of others.

“Through this work, we will make sure that similar injustices can never be repeated and are creating a Home Office worthy of every community it serves. Just this week the Home Secretary co-hosted a positive meeting of the Windrush Working Group to discuss how we can work together to drive further improvements.”

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