Refusing Trenton Oldfield leave to remain is vindictive and baseless

The man who disrupted the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race last year has been refused a visa. At best this is a woefully inconsistent application of policy, and at worst a vengeful, vindictive and juvenile act.

Trenton Oldfield made a name for himself – as no doubt was his intention – when he disrupted the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, last year. His "protest" caused the race to be restarted and much anger among members of the public, many of whom saw his actions as a selfish and supercilious attention-seeking exercise. He was arrested and charged with causing a public nuisance. He was convicted, somewhat unsurprisingly, and given a six-month custodial sentence.

Oldfield, an Australian national, is married and is expecting a child. He has lived in the UK for 10 years and has a tier one visa as a highly-skilled migrant. A tier 1 visa grants individuals leave to remain in the UK for a specified period of time. Presumably, that visa is due to expire and he applied for a spousal visa.

A spousal visa usually operates a two-year probationary period, after which it is necessary to demonstrate that the couple have been living together. The individual may then apply for indefinite leave to remain.

Oldfield’s application was refused. It was reported that the Home Office informed him that following his conviction, his continued presence in the UK would not be "conducive to the public good". General Grounds for Refusal guidance issued by the UK Border Agency in relation to the Immigration Rules suggests that people who are refused leave on the basis that it is conducive to the public good "may include:

  • a member of a proscribed group
  • a person suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity
  • a person whose presence is undesirable because of their character, conduct or associations
  • a person whose presence might lead to an infringement of UK law or a breach of public order, and/or
  • a person whose presence may lead to an offence being committed by someone else."

The Immigration Rules govern the decision-making in relation to leave to remain and guidance on adverse decisions which is to be read alongside the Rules states that "it will never be appropriate to refuse an application where there is no evidence to support the decision" and that "the refusal must show that the immigration officer or the Secretary of State was acting reasonably in deciding that he was not satisfied." One may question whether that is so.

Deportation

Foreign nationals are open to deportation following a conviction where certain conditions are met. Where, upon a conviction, an individual who is not a British citizen, is sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment, there is a duty incumbent upon the Secretary of State to make a deportation order. This is known as automatic deportation.

Oldfield received a (harsh) six-month sentence and so was nowhere near to the level at which the automatic deportation policy would "bite". There was a power for the court to order his deportation, but this would have been an erroneous decision and one which would no doubt have been successfully quashed on appeal. What is interesting to note then, is that had Oldfield have applied for his spousal visa in 2012, and disrupted the 2013 boat race, he would not have presumably been deported.

The BBC reported that a Home Office spokesperson stated: "Those who come to the UK must abide by our laws.” That is no justification for refusing his application as the deportation regime outlined above did not require his removal. It is arguably contrary Parliament’s will.

If Oldfield was not subject to deportation arising from his conviction in 2012, why should that now be determinative of his leave to remain upon an application for a new visa? At best that is a woefully inconsistent policy, and at worst, it is a vengeful, vindictive and juvenile.

Appeal

Oldfield has a full right of appeal and he told the Guardian that he has appealed against the decision. The appeal will be heard before First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber).

There is of course a human rights element to this saga. Both Trenton Oldfield and his wife have a right under article 8 to a family life and it would seem disproportionate and in breach of those rights to refuse him leave to remain as a result of his conviction, despite the deportation procedure not being triggered.

Notwithstanding what you may think of him, perhaps it is worth the Home Office asking whether attempting to remove Oldfield from the UK "conducive to the public good", considering the time and expense involved (and embarrassment when the decision is subsequently reversed). His actions were selfish, yet it is the Home Office who look the fool. 

Editor's note: This article originally stated that Oldfield appeal would be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Chamber. This was incorrect - it will be heard by the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) - and the article has been amended accordingly.

Trenton Oldfield. Photograph: Getty Images
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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.