The government’s ill treatment of the Windrush generation demonstrates the need for a fairer approach to immigration post-Brexit

Theresa May’s government has yet again come under fire for its abhorrent treatment of migrants in Britain. This fortnight, horror stories from the so-called ‘Windrush generation’ of Caribbean migrants littered the press; from the man who was denied NHS treatment for his prostate cancer to pensioners detained in immigration removal centres. The Conservative government’s blatant disregard for immigrants from the Commonwealth poses many questions about the nation’s future, not least regarding the future treatment of migrants from the European Union.

The abominable treatment of Caribbean migrants comes at a critical juncture in British history. At a time where Britain is seeking to reframe its identity, reassert its international presence and develop relationships outside of the European Union, the scandal threatens to damage Britain’s prospects and reputation post-Brexit. Just as this year’s Commonwealth Games came to an end, Downing Street initially refused to talk to Caribbean leaders about the ill-treatment of Caribbean migrants – some of whom had settled in Britain as early as 1948. Downing Street’s reluctance to discuss the scandal with Commonwealth leaders is riddled with irony considering that the Games are meant to signify a shared commitment to equality and humanity.

Writing for the Independent, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, argued that the Windrush scandal “isn’t an anomaly” and had “scary implications for Brexit”. Many fear that if an overly bureaucratic and hostile immigration policy were to be introduced post-Brexit, migrants from Europe, previously welcomed to Britain, would be forced out. Indeed, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief, Guy Verhofstadt, has spoken at length about the “deeply worrying” implications that the Windrush scandal has for future immigration to Britain from the European Union. His comments came as the Home Office admitted that last year, in an “unfortunate error”, some EU nationals wrongly faced deportation. As well as humiliating Britain on the international stage, the Windrush scandal has undoubtedly also caused anxieties amongst EU nationals who live in the fear of deportation.

While the government is keen to paint the Windrush scandal as a “bureaucratic error”, it is clear that the scandal is a product of its hostile environment policy. Gary Younge, writing for The Guardian, notes that the government was wrong to assume that the “woes of a few elderly black people… could not prick the nation’s conscience”. In a similar vein, Brendan O’Neill, writing for The Spectator, argued that one of the government’s “key failings” was to equate public concern about mass immigration to public hostility to migrants already residing in Britain. If there is to be a silver lining to the Windrush scandal, it is that Britons have stood up to defend the rights of those who have continually contributed to the British economy and public life, regardless of their race or ethnicity. One can only hope that the British public will continue to hold the government accountable for its immigration policies as the Brexit negotiations continue.

Isobel Ashby is a campaign volunteer with LCHR

An ethical post-Brexit trade policy

24th April 2013 is not a date which resonates in the memory of people in the same way as 11th September 2001 or July 7th 2005. Yet, on this day, over 1,100 people were killed in the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. Their deaths were not a result of terrorism, but of structural inadequacies in the building that saw 38 people charged with murder.

Western companies connected to Rana Plaza were also criticised for not doing more to prevent the disaster. Primark, the British-owned cheap clothing company, whose supplier ‘New Wave Bottoms’ was based on the second floor of the Rana Plaza factory building, ended up paying over £10 million in compensation to victim’s families, and it was not the only British or European based company to do so. The accident shone a spotlight over UK and EU companies sourcing from countries with poor regulatory standards, including low worker’s pay, poor working conditions and exploitation in company supply chains.

British companies need to be held accountable for what happens in their supply chains, including when disasters like Rana Plaza occur, but also for poor working conditions in general. Voluntary schemes are not enough. The Modern Slavery Act, for example, stipulates that companies producing a turnover in excess of £36 million are required to publish an annual review of slavery within their supply chains. However, CORE, the UK organisation working to improve corporate accountability, revealed in a 2017 report that only one third of British companies covered by the Act have in fact reported such a statement as part of the Transparency in Supply (TISC) clause.

This matters now more than ever because the UK is currently pursuing the most complicated political negotiation in our history, at a time when labour exploitation resurfaces as a major societal issue. Our withdrawal from the European Union, and, by effect, the Single Market and the Customs Union, leaves an estimated 13,000 pieces of legislation to be removed or reinvented. We will no longer be bound by EU trade deals which include a ‘Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters’ (TSDs). The TSD chapters ensure complex yet vital provisions between the EU and its trading partners on workers’ rights are upheld. The UK needs to replicate such provisions in its post-Brexit deals as a bare minimum, yet NGOs working on trade argue that this is not sufficient. Brexit means we now have a negotiating platform with the EU and the rest of the world unlike never before. Liam Fox recently revealed that we should expect 40 trade deals with over 70 countries by the end of the Brexit transition period. It is easy to envisage how the government will prioritise deregulation of labour standards to increase competitiveness in such hurried trade agreements. Human rights must be at the forefront of new trade deals, not side-lined, and trade deals must work in tandem with domestic improvements to corporate accountability.

Theresa May repeatedly claims that Brexit presents an opportunity to forge a “Global Britain”. Let us not become a Global Britain which tolerates modern slavery and labour exploitation as part of our economic policy.

Hayden Banks is a Campaign Volunteer with LCHR

Brexit and the Irish Border

18 March, 1988. West Belfast. A funeral of three IRA members killed in Gibraltar by SAS officers is attacked with grenades by a Loyalist paramilitary. The next day, at the funeral of an IRA volunteer murdered in the attack, two British soldiers, mistaken for Loyalists wanting to repeat Stone’s attack, are beaten and shot dead by a mob of funeral-goers. The ‘Funeral Murders’ were some of the most traumatic episodes of violence in the Troubles. To this day, they exemplify the vicious cycle of violence and anger that characterised the conflict, which tore apart families, communities, and the fabric of a peaceful society.

Like Republican funerals, the border between the North and South of Ireland was a focal point for violence. It also had psychological significance, and for this reason, amongst others, today it is a ‘soft’ or ‘invisible’ border, with very few barriers to movement. Whilst relative stability has endured for the past twenty years, Brexit has the potential to upset the peace established by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Again, attentions have turned towards the border, on account of the fact that a physical border may be reinstated when the United Kingdom leaves the EU. Namely, because when Britain leaves the EU, it will also withdraw from a customs union that regulates frictionless trade between Members, necessitating physical border checks to ensure goods crossing the border comply with EU standards.

The fact that Northern Ireland was the focus of the first phase of negotiations speaks to the gravity of the border issue. The ramifications of irreconcilable disagreement would be disastrous, both for Ireland, the UK, and the Union. George Mitchell, who worked on the Good Friday Agreement outlined how a return to a hard border would undermine the cultural tolerance that freedom of movement encourages. It would also undermine the strides forward both Northern Ireland and the Republic have made in terms of economic development, as the invisible border has allowed small traders to cross and build productive relationships with ease. In broader terms, Brexit has the potential to inflame political tension and has arguably already dealt a devastating blow to the fragile relationship between Ireland and the British state. Notably, the majority of Irish citizens voted to Remain.

To date, the border issue remains unsolved. Several solutions at mitigating the issue have been tabled, all with the aim of maintaining the integrity of the soft border: the use of technology, a radical free trade agreement, or complete regulatory alignment. However, negotiators must reconcile what some believe to be an impossible set of priorities: the UK’s desire to leave the customs union, the EU’s wish to regulate standards of traded goods, and respecting the sovereignty Northern Ireland. Whilst a transition deal has been agreed, any permanent deal could collapse if the issue of the Irish border remains unsolved. A return to violence is certainly not inevitable, but nearly all parties agree that entertaining even the slightest risk of inflaming sectarian tension that filled the Troubles is both reckless and dangerous.

Guinevere Poncia is a campaign volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Brexit and Austerity as a Driver of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

The referendum on EU membership saw a littering of images and rhetoric denouncing mass immigration to the UK, most infamously exemplified in UKIP’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster. But while Brexit brought expressions of anti-immigrant sentiment to the forefront of political discourse, it had already been stirred by the Conservative government’s austerity measures long before June 2016.

Simon Tilford, former deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, argued back in 2016 that membership of the EU had become synonymous with uncontrolled immigration. In his report ‘Britain, Immigration and Brexit’, Tilford argued that, despite the evidence suggesting otherwise, low wage earners perceived a causal link between immigration and falling wages. For this group of the electorate, therefore, the rise of immigrants living in Britain has contributed to poorer living standards and a lack of socioeconomic opportunity.

Tilford went on to posit that the “real culprit” of the lack of housing and strains on our public services, including the NHS and the education system, was decades of inadequate public policy. These strains have been further exacerbated by the Conservative’s current austerity agenda. However, as of yet, the Labour Party, which considers austerity the root of Britain’s social as well as economic problems, has failed to convince many Britons that the government, not immigrants, are to blame for their hardships.

It is the task of politicians to persuade the electorate that their policy initiatives will result in positive change, and most Labour MPs would agree that curating a diverse and open Britain is the way to ensure national success. While the Labour Party has long attempted to convince their traditional voters to recognise the social, cultural and economic contributions of immigrants, this has not proved overwhelmingly successful. In fact, the party risks further alienating these voters if they fail to recognise that the roots of anti-immigrant sentiment come from a sense of desperation and uncertainty.

Last November, Labour MP Barry Sheerman sparked controversy when he claimed that “better educated” Britons had voted Remain in the EU referendum. But Sheerman was correct to highlight the link between poor educational attainment and support for the Leave campaign, as many working-class voters used their vote to express discontent with the current political situation. Moreover, the indignant reaction to Sheerman’s comments is illustrative of the growing sense of disillusionment traditional Labour voters are experiencing with the party.

If Labour is to regain the confidence of their traditional voters, it must first seek to understand that successive British governments have failed to address the socioeconomic issues faced by poor citizens. Only once these voters are provided with better education and greater access to training and employment can the Labour Party begin to convince them of the tangible benefits of immigration.

Isobel Ashby is a campaign volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Worried about dirty meat? A UK-US trade deal could lower standards across the board

Fears of a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal are back in the news this week after an investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found evidence of multiple hygiene failures in American meat plants. Unfortunately, a trade deal with the US would likely mean meat from such plants will be widely sold in the UK in the future.

And it’s not only hygiene standards that have people worried. From carcinogens, pesticides, and pollution, to privatisation of public services and workers’ rights, there is a whole spectrum of areas where the US has lower regulatory standards than the UK.

Why is this relevant to a trade deal? Because modern trade deals commonly focus extensively on levelling the playing field between countries in terms of their regulatory frameworks. That’s because similar regulatory standards make it easier to establish ‘frictionless trade’, where goods can be sold and companies can operate easily between markets.

Commonly, when human rights advocates think about trade deals, we think about the potential to improve international standards rather than accept reduced domestic standards. When the EU does a trade deal, for example, its enormous economic clout gives it leverage over smaller countries to make raising their regulatory standards a condition of doing trade.

Unfortunately, the UK doesn’t have the same strength that the EU does. In the example of a UK-US trade deal, the power dynamic is the other way round, making it more likely that the UK will have to accept reduced standards than persuade the US to raise theirs.

It’s pretty easy to see how this might affect things like imported food products, but it might also affect public services and employment rights. The US, might, for example, make it a condition of any trade deal that the UK opens up the NHS to competition and weakens workers’ rights.

The worst part is that, once standards have been lowered, it also allows UK-based companies to exploit the weakened regulatory environment. Lower wages, less holiday, lower environmental protections, and reduced food safety standards could become the new normal across the board. That’s why it’s essential for Parliament to play an active role in scrutinising trade deals – something the government seems to want to avoid.

Andrew Noakes is the Director of LCHR

How EU legislation protects our privacy rights: two case studies

What has the EU ever done for us? Well, I’ll tell you what. Two current case studies show how instrumental EU legislation is in protecting our right to privacy.

The Watson Case

Last week, Tom Watson’s legal challenge to the government’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) saw success in the UK Court of Appeal. The court ruled that DRIPA failed to restrict bulk surveillance by the government to serious crimes and didn’t include sufficient independent oversight. Crucially, these shortcomings were incompatible with EU law, and it was on this basis that the Act was ruled unlawful.

The case had previously been heard in the EU’s European Court of Justice, which also ruled DRIPA incompatible with EU law and then handed it back to the UK Court of Appeal to apply the ruling. Although DRIPA itself is now out of date, having been superseded by the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016, it contained similar features to the current legal framework for UK surveillance. It could mean that the Investigatory Powers Act, which proved so controversial because it allowed for widespread use of mass surveillance, is also incompatible with EU law. This would be a major win for privacy advocates and for the protection of the population’s personal data.

The General Data Protection Regulation

The scourge of internet marketers everywhere, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is coming into force this May and provides for a major overhaul of the existing EU-wide data protection laws. As the UK still has to adhere to EU law for the time being, we’re obligated to implement it (and, in fact, the government has said it would implement it irrespective of Brexit and will stick to it afterwards).

The law better protects our personal data, allowing us to more easily request access to data that companies hold about us and get that data deleted. It also enforces much stricter consent requirements for data processing, meaning (hopefully) an end to the deluge of emails that you don’t remember ever subscribing to. Even companies based outside the EU have to comply, meaning Facebook, Google, and the other internet giants are all affected. Though it may cause some headaches along the way, the GDPR is set to revolutionise data protection, making it fit for the digital age.

Both these cases illustrate just how important EU legislation can be in protecting our rights. It’s therefore vital that we ensure the government doesn’t water down EU-derived legislation after Brexit. It’s also going to be important for the UK to take future developments in EU legislation and court rulings into account when devising our own laws and making our own legal rulings, otherwise incompatibility could affect things like data sharing (which the EU would not allow if the UK’s standards were dramatically lower than theirs).

Andrew Noakes is the Director of LCHR

Brexit and human rights project briefing No. 4: Variations on free movement

The Labour Campaign for Human Rights is pleased to publish the fourth briefing of our Brexit and human rights project. The briefing provides an objective human rights analysis of three proposed variations on free movement: free movement with a job offer, free movement with an emergency break, and free movement limited by regional or sectoral quotas.

The final section of this briefing considers the recurring human rights risks posed by these three alternatives to free movement, and makes some recommendations for Labour’s priorities for a humane, progressive post-Brexit immigration system.

You can read the briefing here.

Three lessons from CLPs

As part of our Brexit & human rights project, I’ve been spent the last few months visiting CLPs to talk to Labour activists about the key issues. So far I’ve been to Tooting, Winchester, Westminster, Castle Point, and Woking. And this evening I’m off to Stoke. So what are the top three lessons I’ve learned so far?

There’s a diversity of opinion in every CLP

 When I visited the London CLPs, I didn’t really expect to encounter any Brexiteers, just as I didn’t expect to encounter many Remainers in Castle Point. I was totally wrong! There’s been a strong diversity of opinion in every CLP. In Castle Point, for example, most Labour activists seemed to be Remainers at heart, but some were concerned about immigration and were sceptical about the value of the EU courts. In the London CLPs, there were some stalwart Brexiteers among the expected Remainer majority. I quickly learned not to judge a book by its cover and appreciate the differences of opinion in every area.

We can have an honest conversation about immigration

I was struck by a comment from one activist, who said five years ago it would have been impossible to have an honest conversation about immigration in their CLP. We’d just had a discussion about the challenges of sudden cultural change and assimilation and to what extent fears about immigration should be re-directed towards resisting austerity. It was an interesting conversation drawing on plenty of real-life examples of cultural clashes and economic deprivation. But this activist said such a conversation would have led to accusations of racism a few years ago. If that’s true, it’s a positive development that people can now talk about immigration constructively in their CLPs.

Austerity

Leading on from the previous point, one common theme running through every discussion has been the culpability of austerity not just in creating hostility towards immigration but also for causing the country to turn against the EU more broadly. The most common view expressed when I’ve challenged activists to build an argument in favour of immigration and internationalism has been that austerity is the true cause of people’s problems. While I think this may well be true, I can’t help feeling concerned that it may come off as paternalistic to try and explain to people that what they’re really opposed to isn’t what they think they’re opposed to. If we’re to win the debate, we’ll need to frame this argument very carefully.

Andrew Noakes is the Director of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Why Labour is right to force a vote on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

On Tuesday, Keir Starmer announced Labour will force a vote on retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law following Brexit. Striking a non-partisan tone, he said “this is not a party-political issue. It is about the type of nation we want to be. Britain should be a proud advocate of human rights.”

This is an important move from Labour, demonstrating a strong commitment to protecting human rights during the Brexit process. While the Charter of Fundamental Rights might, at first glance, seem like a superfluous document considering the UK’s existing human rights protections under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, it actually contains a number of rights that are substantively greater than those provided elsewhere. These include rights related to non-discrimination, housing assistance, social security, preventive healthcare, data protection, children, and many other areas.

While many rights contained within the Charter overlap with rights elsewhere in UK domestic law, there’s no substitute for having them located in a single, over-arching, and constitutional document. As Keir Starmer has commented, the government’s approach risks “[taking] rights from the charter and scatter[ing] them to their original sources: the polar opposite of effective human rights protection.”

However, including the whole Charter in UK law doesn’t come without its difficulties. For one, the Charter contains a clear right to freedom of movement within the EU, which may well not continue after Brexit for UK citizens. It also contains some references to EU institutions that are unlikely to have the same kind of jurisdiction in the UK following Brexit. A like-for-like transposition into UK law could therefore be tricky, necessitating some tinkering with the substance of the document. This could end up pushing Labour to declare its position on issues like free movement faster than it would otherwise wish.

The government has pledged to strengthen human rights during the Brexit process, with Justice Minister Dominic Raab saying “this country has a longstanding tradition of liberty and rights, and we intend to build on that following our departure from the EU.” It’s now time for them to put their words into action by working with Labour to protect the Charter, rather than trying to break it up.

Andrew Noakes is Director of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

LCHR’s Response to the Initial Brexit Agreement

Just when it seemed that the government’s chaotic Brexit negotiations had damaged negotiations beyond repair, Theresa May managed to scramble together a compromise on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border that enables talks to progress onto the next stage.

Yet despite the government’s subsequent victory lap, it is worth remembering that this deal was struck months later than scheduled, and contains simply the bare minimum that EU negotiators consider as constituting “adequate progress.” As European President Donald Tusk pointed out, the delayed nature of this deal means that it will be a “furious race against time” to complete the negotiations before March 2019. Most of the substantive and complex issues regarding our future relationship with the EU, including a sustainable solution for the Irish border, have simply been kicked into the not-so-long grass.

On the issue of citizens’ rights, the government must surely be wondering if months of intransigence and bluster that resulted in the needlessly protracted anxiety and uncertainty for millions was really worth it, especially as its last minute agreement largely caved to demands made previously by the EU. It is true that the deal was considerably better than the government had previously indicated, with EU citizens in the UK having the right to stay and maintain many of the rights they currently enjoy. Theresa May also bent one of her supposed ‘red lines’ by allowing the European Court of Justice to remain the final arbiter of EU citizens’ rights for 8 years after withdrawal.

Despite the deal’s positive elements, there has been much opposition to the provision that every EU citizen will have to apply for ‘settled status’ if they are to legally remain in the UK. As pointed out by one immigration expert, it is inevitable that many EU citizens currently in the UK will fail to complete the application in time, due to lack of awareness, education or simple organisation. There are also serious doubts over the Home Office’s capacity to deal with such an influx of applications, as the department currently rejects 29% of applications and recently distributed hundreds of erroneous deportation letters.  Settled status therefore risks precipitating a significant spike in undocumented and illegal migrants, who will then have to navigate the ‘hostile environment’ intentionally created by a government obsessed with reducing net migration.

One area in which the deal exceeded expectations is by making most family members of EU citizens eligible for settled status. However, EU citizens who begin a relationship with a foreign national after Brexit day will be subject to the same punitive spousal income requirements which make Britain the worst developed nation for family reunification. As Professor Steve Peers argues, this misses a vital opportunity to ‘level up’ the rights that enable us to live with our loved ones, as the current deal simply means that “migrants will be treated equally badly to nationals.”

Citizens’ rights groups have also been quick to criticise the agreement’s repercussions for UK citizens living in the EU. In July, Theresa May inexplicably rejected an offer made by the EU to guarantee the continuation of rights for Britons in the EU to move freely between member states for work, holidays or retirement. Jane Golding, Chair of British in Europe, lamented the fact that the current agreement fails to provide such a guarantee, with another campaigner describing how British citizens living abroad are “more fearful than ever of being thrown under the Brexit bus.”

It is therefore clear that, despite its generally positive reception, the minutiae of this deal have left many substantial issues unresolved. It is up to Labour to keep the pressure on the government to ensure that the rights of everyone living in Britain are safeguarded as we leave the EU.

Joe Duffy is LCHR’s Campaign Intern