Windrush Brixton

It was only in 1948 that we became British citizens, or more accurately, Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC), before which all those in the UK or its colonies had been British subjects. But new countries which were former colonies wanted to have their own nationalities, and so change was needed. But those who had been born in the UK or the former colonies retained the right to come here unfettered until the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, introduced by a Conservative Government largely at the behest of right-wing Conservative extremists in the ‘Monday Club’.

It was, as then Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell said, “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation“, and later Acts made things even worse. But that 1962 law had an important exemption as Wikipedia states:

Commonwealth citizens who were residing in the UK or who had resided in the UK at any point from 1960 to 1962 were exempted, as well as CUKCs and Commonwealth citizens holding a passport issued by the British government or who were born in the UK. The exemption also applied to wives and children under 16 of these people, or any person included on these people’s passports.

That exemption was necessary  because of the huge contribution by 1962 being made to the running of our hospitals, buses and other services by immigrants particularly from the Carribean, where Minister of Health  from 1960-63 ran a very active recruiting programme for nurses.

It is these people who came to the UK up to 1962 – including wives and children under 16 and others on their passports who make up what we think of as the Windrush generation, part of a process that began with the Empire Windrush docking at Tilbury in June 1948, but involves many, many more than the  492 passengers on board. Others too who arrived between the 1962 Act and the 1971 Immigration Act which gave CUKCs the ‘right of abode’, a somewhat curious concept that results in the UK being in breach of international law.  The 1981 British Nationality Act made them (and those born here) British Citizens.

More directly the problems for these people arise from then Home Secretary Theresa May’s 2014 Immigration Act which introduced draconian and discriminatory provisions and changed the legal immigration landscape. Among the speakers at the event was Labour Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot, one of only 8 Labour  MPs to vote against that act, pointing out then the problems it would cause.

The Home Office, with its policy of a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants has been deporting many who have British Citizen status (or refusing to allow them to return to the UK after they take a holiday or trip to visit relatives. It is doing so as a part of a racist ‘numbers game’ which has involved both major political parties in trying to appease racist pressures to cut immigration.

People who came here legally – often by invitation from the government or major employers at the time – are being asked to produce documentary proof of their residence and employment many years ago, to prove that their status was covered by the various twists of UK immigration policy over the years.

It’s a quite unnecessary and virtually impossible process, clearly designed simply as harassment. If anyone has the records that they seem to require it should be the relevant government departments as these people have paid taxes and national insurance over the years. And to learn that the Home Office has recently destroyed vital historic documents related to the Windrush generation rather than sending them to the National Record Office or the Black Cultural Archives in front of which this protest was held adds injury to the already significant insult.

More on the protest in Windrush Square Brixton on My London Diary:  Solidarity with the Windrush families

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