The Great Brexit Disorder

Photo by ijclark | CC BY 2.0

Seeking, and being able to afford (!), a brief psychological decompression from the nightmarish Land of Caged Toddlers, and the almost daily police executions of unarmed blacks, I’m back in the UK, where things are marginally less worse, depending of course on the stratum of society to which one happens to belong.

In Blighty, not quite as yet a banana republic like the US, young children are not (so far) kidnapped on a massive scale by the state, and its non-whites (so far) only generally endure systemic and repetitive police harassment and beatings, albeit, relative to the US, with the very occasional police killing thrown in.

The burning issue in the UK, where immigration is concerned, consists in the subsequent denial of the right of residence to those who entered the country entirely legally.

The recent scandal concerning the so-called “Windrush generation” is a central instance of this official duplicity.

The British Nationality Act was passed in 1948 to allow British Commonwealth citizens legal entry into the UK, as a way of dealing with the country’s acute postwar labour shortage.  Only proof of residency in a Commonwealth country was needed for entry.

The steamship Windrush brought the first of several thousands of immigrants from the British Caribbean to the UK.

In a government “paper reduction” exercise decades later, the entry papers of these immigrants were shredded (other euphemisms were used, but this is basically what happened).

When the Tories introduced their policy of a “hostile environment” for immigrants after they returned to power in 2010, proof of legal residence in the UK was suddenly required for all medical treatment, applications for government jobs, all kinds of licenses, and so forth.

(Incidentally, the current prime minister, Theresa May, was the architect of this vicious “hostile environment” policy when she was home secretary/interior minister prior to becoming PM.  This policy was a cynical ploy to prevent hard-right Tory voters from absconding to the xenophobic and anti-immigration UKIP.)

The Windrush generation, entering the UK legally, had assumed for decades that they were legal UK residents (and were treated as such by officialdom until this policy change), and therefore saw no need to apply for UK documents such as passports, etc.

However, as a result of being classified, overnight and wrongly, as “illegal immigrants”, they were in sudden need of entry papers certifying their legal arrival in the UK decades ago.

When the Windrush generation, elderly by now, applied to the UK immigration authorities for these by now shredded entry papers, the outcome was of course devastating.

Under the Tory “hostile environment” policy, several of the Windrush generation who had spent almost all their lives in the UK were deported back to the Caribbean, summarily, with no realistic prospect of appealing their deportations, sans (no longer existing) official documents, in the hope of a return to the UK.

Others, now officially deemed “foreigners” who therefore did not qualify for NHS healthcare, but who required serious medical procedures, were now presented with catastrophically expensive medical bills.  Yet others were sacked from their jobs or deprived of welfare benefits.

Many incurred severe debt as a result, which they could not pay back, or even if some could, a consequence of being hugely indebted was a plunging of their credit rating to calamitous levels.

There has been at least one Windrush fatality connected with the “hostile environment policy.  According to The Independent:

A Windrush man who died suddenly after being classified an illegal immigrant had refrained from accessing healthcare for nearly two years before his death due to immigration concerns, a pre-inquest review has heard.

Dexter Bristol, who came to the UK from Grenada aged eight, collapsed and died from acute heart failure in the street outside his home in Camden on 31 March. He had been sacked from his cleaning job and then denied benefits because officials did not believe he was in the country legally.

It has now emerged that, according to medical records submitted to the coroner, the 57-year-old had not accessed health services since August 2016. His uncertain immigration status prevented him from going to the GP….

The Guardian revealedthat the Tory government had been warned several times since 2014 of the disaster being created for the Windrush generation by its “hostile environment” policy, but chose blithely to ignore these warnings.

As an old Brit friend of mine is wont to say in his laconic Yorkshire fashion:  “Basically, they were fucked”.

Blighty is also a right old mess in other respects.

Decades of Thatcherism and neo-Thatcherism (Blair’s Labour) have exacted a devastating toll on the UK’s social fabric.

Austerity, enacted by the Tories when they came to power in 2010 in the name of debt-reduction, is an absolute con:  UK debt (public sector net debt, excluding private banks) has risen by 50% since the Tories took office in 2010.

At the same time, the rich have prospered mightily. According to the 2018 Sunday TimesRich List, in the 10 years since the global financial crash, the British super-rich, many belonging to the parasitic financial sector, have tripled their wealth.

The same Rich List shows that workers on average still do not earn as much as they did in 2007-2008, the start of the Great Recession. As my old Yorkshire friend will say yet again:  “Basically, they are being fucked”.

Therein lies a stark tale of the Two Britains.

The UK press is overwhelmingly rightwing.  The BBC is not much better.  Reporting on Gaza, for instance, the Beeb provides reports on “Palestinian-Israeli fighting”, without disclosing how many unarmed Palestinians, including medics (wearing highly visible identification) and children, have been shot by the snipers of “the most moral army in the world”.

With the mediascape so dominated by the right, the tale of the Two Britains is vastly under-reported.  More headlines were devoted to the outfits worn by Meaghan Markle and Princess Kate to the Wimbledon tennis.

And as for any detailed reporting about the tragedy unfolding in Yemen, putting Humpty Dumpty back together is a more likely prospect, and this despite the fact that the UK is a major arms supplier for the barbaric Saudis.

The Great Brexit Disorder continues.  Theresa May got the majority of her cabinet to sign onto an agreement which could, optimistically, be presented to the EU as a basis for negotiation. It took the EU a mere 8 minutes to say the document was unacceptable.

The mangy Ukanian beast is thus slouching towards a “no deal” Brexit.  Hardly any planning has been done for this by the utterly inept Tories who, as Brits say, couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.

The economic consequences of an unplanned Brexit are likely to be dire for most Brits.

The country is going through a protracted heatwave (by Northern European standards). Temperatures above 90°F are virtually unknown here, and air-conditioning is rudimentary as a consequence.

Reservoirs are at historically low levels, and there are hose-pipe bans in many parts of the country.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.