The Home Secretary has finally bowed to the inevitable and departed, although the real architect of the ‘hostile environment’ policy remains in Downing Street, for the time being at least. It seems more likely at present that she will be brought down by bowing to another inevitable – accepting that the simplistic Brexit desired by her own party’s extremists is simply not a viable proposition.
It seems clear that the ‘hostile environment’ policy was discriminatory in its effect: it had more impact on those immigrants of a different skin colour. I’m not convinced that that necessarily means that it was intended as a racist policy, or that those devising and implementing it were racist. I think it’s actually worse than that – they were blind to the colour of those being deported because they were blind to their humanity. Reducing them to numbers in a spreadsheet isn’t racially motivated, even if its effect turns out to be discriminatory. Their real sin was that act of reducing people to numbers for the sake of pandering to an anti-immigrant culture in order to win votes.
In the same way, I’ve never been entirely convinced that the leading Brexiteers, who fought the referendum campaign largely on an anti-immigration platform, are actually either racist or xenophobic. Again, it’s worse than that: they are people who were willing to leverage racism and xenophobia in others to achieve a result which they didn’t think they could bring about by honest argument and debate.
The common thread between the two is that element of dishonesty and the willingness to appease sentiments which they don’t share themselves. In the process, rather than attempting to address the fears and concerns which many people clearly have about immigration, they have succeeded in reinforcing and legitimising even more extreme viewpoints. That, rather than simply misleading parliament, whether intentionally or otherwise, is the real sin, but it’s one that they show no sign of even recognising.