Tens of thousands of British citizens have been challenged to prove their nationality on pain of at best being refused employment or healthcare and at worst detention and deportation to countries of which they have neither knowledge nor experience.
Hundreds of thousands of legal migrants to the UK, many from Commonwealth countries, have had similar treatment because they have mislaid documents from 30 or 40 years ago or are told by the Home Office that those documents are no longer valid.
Millions of EU citizens who were told they could come to the UK to live and work, so long as they paid their taxes and obeyed the law, are now told they are not welcome and will lose their status if Britain Brexits next March.
To turn one of the Brexiters phrases back on themselves, I am not sure I recognise the country in which I grew up. The tolerant, liberal, great society that was envisaged in western democracies after the Second World War is under attack as never before.
Having been caught out by the Windrush scandal, Theresa May’s Government expresses mock contrition, while carefully constraining their apology to the relatively few Caribbean migrants who held British passports.
But – as I have been pointing out in the Commons by reference to Hammersmith victims of the ‘hostile environment’ which May set out to create with her vans and raids – there are many, many more migrants who entered the country legally with Indefinite Leave to Remain who were not British Citizens but have lawfully made their lives here over decades. They are still under threat.
Yesterday I raised with the new Home Secretary the cases of two people I saw at my Monday surgery: an asylum seeker who risked his life getting to the UK at 15 and is still to have his case decided a decade later, and a grandmother who came to the UK from Barbados aged ten and still cannot get citizenship.
This is not a new problem: my office has been dealing with hundreds of similar cases every year since Cameron introduced his arbitrary net migration targets. Everyone began to be treated as guilty until proven innocent, and with Legal Aid gone proving anything became increasingly difficult. This week I even found a charitable religious foundation working in Shepherds Bush that has been told it must deport its foreign staff who are helping London’s homeless.
However, matters have got much worse in the past two years since May became Prime Minister and she had a chance to put her experiments as Home Secretary to wider use. Now landlords, employers, job centres and GPs, have been told to act as immigration officers. People who have lived lawfully for decades in the UK are having their rights challenged as they go about their daily business.
The implications of this for EU nationals are alarming. Over three million are due to be registered in the next year so they can be put on some form of reduced residency. But what if they don’t register, or the system doesn’t work, or they have to travel before the process is complete?
I will be publishing regular updates for EU citizens in Hammersmith to make sure they know what they need to do to protect their rights in the UK. Sadly, some have told me they are already thinking of leaving, and the survey I conducted last month showed 40% have had negative experiences since the Referendum.
This is not a minority issue: almost half Hammersmith residents were born outside the UK. And my conversations show little difference between indigenous and migrant views; both value the community we have created over decades here and are prepared to defend it.
The first chance to do so comes on Thursday with the London elections. Voting for Labour candidates in Hammersmith, all of whom are committed to oppose hard Brexit and the Government’s divisive hostile environment for migrants, will be a clear signal to May, Johnson, Gove and Farage that they do not represent the British people on this issue.
All politics is local – and national, and international
The turnout in local elections is rarely more than half that of a General Election, yet the effects are often as great on our everyday lives. Labour in Hammersmith has put the rights of our 1 in 5 EU citizens alongside support for the NHS and Charing Cross Hospital and plans to build thousands of affordable homes at the heart of its campaign for Thursday’s vote.
These are all key local issues but they also challenge Government to do the right thing. I am very proud of the achievements of the current council, under the leadership of Stephen Cowan and Sue Fennimore.
They unexpectedly won control four years ago from a maverick right-wing group of Conservatives who had sold off hundreds of council homes at auction, given planning consent for huge luxury developments, many of which proved unbuildable, and supported the demolition of Charing Cross Hospital. (Hmm perhaps their victory wasn’t so unexpected).
But it meant a steep learning curve for the new Council and a lot of time spent reversing their predecessors’ awful decisions: buying back Hammersmith Park from a private company, stopping the destruction of Shepherds Bush Market and saving 750 family homes from demolition in West Kensington. Only last week the Sunday Times Business section led with the story of how Labour is saving West Ken from disaster.
The Labour council has absolutely risen to the challenge with a combination of policies to help the poorest and most vulnerable, sound finances and low taxes and investment in our key local services, like policing and the environment.
Since 2014, Labour in Hammersmith has:
Abolished charges for adult social care
Protected Charing Cross Hospital from demolition
Cut council tax
Built the most genuinely affordable homes for ten years
Increased street cleaning
Given all homeless children a proper home
Funded over 50 police officers, the biggest number ever
Negotiated an extra £310 million from developers to invest in local services
Found a new home and funding for our excellent Law Centre
Put in more electric car charging points than any other council and planted more trees.
I truly believe they deserve a chance to continue the good work -; and that a return to the divisive and extreme policies of Hammersmith Conservatives would be a disaster.
There is of course much else going on locally left field.
I was pleased the Telegraph covered my research (prompted by a constituent) that showed men were getting three times as many higher honours as women.
Horrified that the highly dangerous tumble dryers that caused the Shepherds Bush fire two years ago are even more likely to catch fire than predicted. I have demanded the Government now orders a full recall of these 5 million machines.
Called once again in the Commons for only non-combustible cladding to be used on high-rise buildings to avoid another Grenfell Tower.
And I was delighted to host a reception at the Commons for Muntada Aid -; a local charity that works around the world – as they launched their Ramadan charity campaign.
I must also plug the lecture next week by my friend and colleague Chuka Umunna who is lecturing on Brexit for the Upper Room charity at St Saviour’s Church in Wendell Park.
But indulge me by focusing on this Thursday’s election. It will make a difference locally, in London and beyond. Let’s show we are still prepared to be generous, open-minded and compassionate as individuals and as a country.