Photo credit: The British Library
THE WINDRUSH SCANDAL
On Monday 16 April 2018, the British government was preparing to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. There were hopes that the gathering would set the seal on a new, post-Brexit, ‘global Britain’ focused on trade and diplomacy beyond the European continent in which the Commonwealth would assume a fresh significance.
Yet it was a very different story that was to capture the attention of the press. That morning’s Guardian newspaper revealed the prime minister, Theresa May, had rejected a formal request by Commonwealth Caribbean leaders to discuss the plight of thousands of migrants from the West Indies who had settled legally in the UK in the years since the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948, but whose right to remain had been wrongly questioned by the Home Office and who had faced threats of deportation. The approach to Downing Street, coordinated by the High Commissioner of Barbados, Guy Hewitt, was the culmination of separate investigations by journalists, Caribbean diplomats, activists and parliamentarians, which had begun to reveal the scale of the abuses. Many commentators traced the policy back to May’s own promise in 2012, when Home Secretary, to create a ‘really hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants.
The week of the Commonwealth summit saw what became known as the ‘Windrush Scandal’ dominate the news headlines. Within 24 hours, May had reversed her earlier decision and had used a meeting with Caribbean leaders to apologise for the treatment of members of the Windrush Generation. Meanwhile, May’s successor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, apologised to Parliament. By the end of the month, Rudd had been forced to resign after Amelia Gentleman of the Guardian had revealed that the Home Office had targets for the removal of illegal migrants, despite her assurances to the Home Affairs Select Committee that no such targets existed. In April 2019, Rudd’s replacement as Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced a £200 million scheme to compensate those affected by the Windrush Scandal.
Although the Scandal is commonly associated with the period from 2010, its origins go back much further and are inextricably linked to the complex web of legislation, beginning with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, which sought to limit migration from the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
The 1962 Act coincided with independence for Jamaica and Trinidad. From the very beginning, the UK sought to involve and implicate Caribbean governments in the operation of immigration controls, and the treatment of members of the West Indian diaspora communities became a focus of attention for both Caribbean and British diplomats. At the same time, the sensitive issue of immigration cast a shadow over an expanding Commonwealth of newly independent members from the West Indies, African, Asia and the Pacific.
The AHRC-funded project The Windrush Scandal in a Transnational and Commonwealth Context seeks, for the first time, to explore that longer history with a mixture of oral and archival research which records the voices of those directly involved.
There are so many people we wish to thank for collaborating with us on this project. In particular, we would like to acknowledge the following people for their help and support: Professor Gus John; Glenda Andrew, Preston Windrush Generation and Descendants UK; Mia Morris OBE, Black Heritage Today Magazine; Arif Ali, Hansib Publications; Eric Huntley, Bogle L’Ouverture; Allison Nortje, Senior Diplomat, Bahamas High Commission; Christxpher Oliver, Burning Works; Jerome Bond, Leigh Day; Jacqueline McKenzie, Leigh Day; Frances Swaine, Leigh Day; Dr Aggrey Burke; George Brown, Burning Works; Dr Laura Obermuller, University of the West Indies; Anna Steiner, University of Westminster; Wendy Webster, author of Imagining Home (1998); Arike Oke, former Managing Director, Black Cultural Archives; Mary Stewart, Oral History Curator, British Library; Rob Perks MBE, retired Oral History Curator; Dr Kesewa John; Karen Doyle, Movement for Justice; Kate Mead; Glenroy Watson, Global Afrikan Congress UK; Colin Bobb-Semple, former Senior Lecturer, The City Law School; Betty Why, AGNAP; Norma Lawrence; Dr Jack Webb, University of Manchester; Liz Millman, Windrush Allies Network; David Alston, Black History Conversations; Simon Ferrigno, Belong Nottingham; Garrick Prayogg, Justice for Windrush Generations; Julia Davidson, Peterborough Windrush Generation and Descendants; Anthony Brown, W D Legal; Stephen Poleon, oral Historian, and researcher; Professor Jean Besson, Goldsmiths; Shodona Kettle, UCL Institute of the Americas; Professor James Cantres, Hunter College; Luke Daniels (Caribbean Labour Solidarity); Dr Dylan Vernon, independent; Dr María del Pilar Kaladeen. Institute of Commonwealth Studies; Professor Mary Chamberlain, Oxford Brookes University; Professor Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, University of the West Indies; Professor Patricia Noxolo, University of Birmingham; Dr Matthew L. Bishop, University of Sheffield; Professor Matthew J. Smith, UCL; Dr Dylan Kerrigan, University of the West Indies; Dr Henderson Carter, University of the West Indiesl colleagues at the Society for Caribbean Studies; the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham; Professor Kate Quinn, UCL Institute of the Americas; Dr Luke de Noronha, Sarah Parker Redmond Centre, UCL; Dr Audrey Allwood, Goldsmiths; High Commissioner Judith Slater, Jamaica; High Commissioner Scott Furssedonn-Wood MVO, Barbados; High Commissioner Harriet Cross, Trinidad and Tobago; Destinie Reynolds, University of Manchester; Izzy Conn, Institute of Historical Research; Natalia Fantetti, School of Advanced Study; Eloise Rowley; Madu Gebermeskel; Professor Paul Sutton, formerly of the Caribbean Studies Centre, London Metropolitan University; the West Indiana and Special Collections Division at The Alma Jordan Library, Trinidad and Tobago; Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, University of the West Indies; Dr Mike Slaven, University of Lincoln; the West Indies Federal Archives Centre, Barbados; the George Padmore Institute; and the countless archivists, campaigners and supporters who may not always be mentioned but who were really helpful in many ways. We will be updating this section with more names in due course.