The Home Office's van. Photo: Gov.UK
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Home Office live-tweets immigration raids

The message is clear: we're coming for you.

The Home Office twitter feed stepped up its ongoing campaign to scare the shit out of migrants yesterday, live tweeting co-ordinated raids across the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tweets are the public face of what seems to be a deliberate stepping-up of anti-immigrant activities. The department has also launched an aggressive mobile ad campaign aimed at people in the UK illegally, quickly nicknamed the "racist van" due to the similarity of its slogan to those used by the National Front; and anecdotal evidence suggests that spot-checks on public transport, particularly around the capital, have become more frequent and forceful.

Late last month, the UK Border Agency was out in force in Kensal Green, in the London Borough of Brent. The borough has the largest foreign-born population in Britain – 54.2 per cent of residents weren't born in the UK, as of the last census — and so any aggressive swoop is likely to feel hostile to its residents. That is twice as true if, as seems likely, there is an element of racial profiling to the checks. Matt Kelcher wrote of his experience, saying that the UKBA agents "didn’t seem interested in me and I walked straight through, but the two Asian women who entered the station after me were stopped, taken to one side and questioned."

In a way, the Home Office twitter campaign is just honesty. Actions speak louder than words, and the department's actions make it pretty clear that it is prepared to go to lengths many people find abhorrent to crack down on illegal immigrants. Maybe it's better that they are at least open about it. But what rankles most, judging by the replies to the account, is the pride. Even if we were prepared to accept that this sort of grotty work is necessary given the laws of our country, it's another thing entirely to see the Government revelling in it, and shouting it out for all the world to see.

The Home Office argues that the various publicity campaigns are aimed squarely at illegal migrants, encouraging them to leave the country; but, as Rafael Behr wrote of the vans, "at least part of the intended audience for this campaign is people who are British, who think there are too many immigrants here and want some of them to leave". The migrants who might actually see the tweets and fear for their safety look more like collateral damage.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.