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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.