Posted inOpinion

Illegal on British Land? Racist Laws in Progress

Illustration Credit: Josephine Moir

From Matt Hancock’s infidelity to the Tory Christmas parties, there are many events which may have blinded us to the more insidious work of Her Majesty’s Government this year. Orchestrated by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the Nationality and Borders Bill aims to “deter illegal entry to the United Kingdom” with measures including up to four years in prison or deportation to a “safe third country”. And if that wasn’t bad enough a new clause, clause nine, has recently been embedded to strip someone of their citizenship without prior notice. This proposed law is not only racist but also an act of violence enshrined in black and white.

Understandably, most of the British public were far from impressed with the bill and remain reluctant to let it slide without a fight. Far from retaliating from cheese and wine, cries of “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” have oscillated through Parliament Square in multiple protests which I had the privilege to attend over the past year. However, solidarity does not exist in the streets alone: Twitter storms and GOV.UK petitions have enabled people to express their outrage in ways that are accessible to those who cannot actively take to the streets. The resulting snowball effect of conversation means that our resistance simply cannot be ignored. 

And so, not all hope is lost. Some MPs, like Imran Hussain, have taken anxieties about this racist bill into their own hands, voicing them on a platform much bigger than you and I: Prime Minister’s Questions. Yet the same cannot be said for the Leader of the Opposition himself. Rightfully dubbed a “wet-wipe” by journalist Moya Lothian-McLean, many would agree that the Labour Party, but particularly Keir Starmer, needs to apply heavier resistance for the sake of its constituents. This party was established on the grounds of protecting the very people who the Tories are now attacking most with this bill – the working class. But what are they actively doing to stop it? Little to nothing.

Moving on, the bill is a perpetuation of what I define a “colonial legacy”: a sense of grandeur about British neo-colonialism which is now in the process of being enshrined in law. There is a certain level of urgency that needs to be addressed here, since the bill has already gone through its second parliamentary reading and is dangerously close to coming into force. Protests and other forms of resistance are more important than ever, because it may be one of our final chances to prevent a travesty of justice from occurring. Most notably, the bill encapsulates a sick sense of irony, because it implies the disposability of those who Boris Johnson once referred to as “essential workers”.

I, among many others argue that history is repeating itself here, echoing the effects of the Windrush Scandal, a human rights violation which caused many Commonwealth members to be deported during Theresa May’s era. Again, the British government continues to demonstrate that same audacity to commodify, dehumanise, and dispose of their migrant workers whenever it feels ‘appropriate’ for them.

All of this overlooks the fact that Boris Johnson, a Balliol alumnus, was himself saved by migrant workers in the NHS, “the beating heart of this country”, during the COVID-19 pandemic. But his supposed gratitude was superficial, as government mismanagement has made working in the NHS dangerous for our most vulnerable communities. I was initially shocked but not surprised to find out that in 2020, more Filipino healthcare workers died of COVID-19 in the UK than in their native country.  This fact embodies the ghastly reality and dire consequences of Boris Johnson’s irresponsibility, revealing current government conduct as something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we witness the tragedy inflicted on migrant workers in the UK, who continuously pay with their lives. On the other, we witness the Government’s wrath in its merciless attempt to boot these people out of their rightful, settled homes.

Now, it is impossible to deny that The Nationality and Borders Bill is one that thrives off deep prejudice and bigotry. British chauvinism is an extended metaphor for the country’s gruesome past, one that still has great significance today. When talking of social justice and immigration, many protesters chant the well-known saying: “nobody is illegal on stolen land.” This incidental Alexandrian (twelve-syllabic) meter refers to the concept of ‘illegal’ immigration from one country to another, but particularly in relation to the United States. Yet, when applied to the UK, this statement remains only half true. The former (“nobody is illegal”) is an infallible statement, and to challenge it is an insult to our civil liberties, but land the UK can never be ‘stolen’, because of this nation’s infamous imperial past. British identity is one that is shared amongst many, over periods of millennia: from the Romans to the Celts, from the Normans to the Huguenots, even in the modern day with the Windrush Generation. Britain’s prosperity as a nation is rooted in the blood, sweat and tears of its immigrants – so why is the Government now biting the hands of those that have built this nation from scratch?

When relating the chant to Patel’s racist bill, one cannot ignore the profound hypocrisy Britain wears on its sleeve in penalising ‘illegal’ immigrants. Not only is it well within our rights as the British public (for now) to advocate for our people, it is also within our moral onus to call out faults within the constitution. Governmental forces are so threatened by our voices and influence that they go out of their way to cripple us. While this can be scary, it goes to show the power of the people.

We must welcome all with open arms, sans terms, sans conditions, sans intolerance. The Nationality and Borders Bill must not win.