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
GETTY
Show Hide image

Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue