The LGBT activist Ira Putilova, who has just been released from the Yarl's Wood detention centre.
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Laurie Penny on immigration policy: The coalition’s “tougher stance” on immigration is causing cold-blooded tragedy

While the Home Office launches a special “fast-track” service for foreign business leaders wanting to come to the UK, asylum seekers and persecuted activists are treated with contempt.

Ira Putilova is free, for now. After days of relentless public pressure, the LGBT activist, who will face persecution if she returns to Russia, was released from Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Her friends posted a picture of her, smiling and tired on the train, to the Facebook group that had been set up in her defence. At the time of writing, it is not yet known whether she will be arrested and deported again. Ira was luckier than most: her worthy case got national attention, support from celebrities and demonstrations that drew hundreds. That, in all likelihood, is what forced a little charity out of an administration that seems determined to prove it has the appropriate contempt for foreigners, no matter the human cost.

The coalition’s tabloid-facing "tougher stance" on immigration is causing tragedy upon cold-blooded tragedy. On 28 November, despite national outcry, Nigerian asylum seeker Ifa Muazu was deported "home" - where he says he will be murdered by members of Boko Haram - on a private jet. This very public decision was taken despite the fact that Muazu was on hunger strike, starved to the point of death in protest at the inhuman treatment he received in Britain. Muazu would be facing death in Nigeria right now if the country hadn’t refused his plane permission to land.

Muazu, like many others - like my grandparents, and maybe yours too - came to Britain for "a better life". He was met with the kind of orchestrated cruelty that shrugged at his certain violent death. It was a dark day indeed for this country when the word "asylum seeker" started to mean "a person who is a drain on the state", rather than "a person in need of help". But however much money those fleeing persecution and poverty elsewhere are supposedly costing us, there is somehow always the cash available to make sadistic gestures. The private jet that was hired to deport the now fatally ill Muazu "home" almost certainly cost the public purse many times what it would to allowed him leave to remain. That’s without factoring in the bill for holding him in detention for months - today, Muazu remains desperately ill in the medical wing of the Harmondsworth immigration centre in west London.

The fast-tracking of asylum cases is a statement of intent: please do not send us your tired, your poor, or your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. If you do, we’ll send them back in a private jet. This government wants us to admire its big, tough, "muscular" stance on immigration. That’s why, earlier in the year, it paid for billboards advising foreign nationals to "GO HOME" to be driven around some of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the country - appropriating the language of far-right thugs in service of a darkening national mood of racial intolerance.

Thanks to Chris Grayling's recent changes to legal aid services, foreign nationals who have been in the country for less than a year - including victims of rape, torture and political persecution - will no longer be able to access legal help to fight for their right to remain. But the Tories don’t want every single immigrant to go home. In fact, just weeks before she signed off on the deportation of a dying man in the dead of night, Theresa May launched a special "fast-track" service for "foreign business leaders". Borders have always meant a great deal less to the global super-rich, but Britain has just made that policy official. Our borders are more open than ever to people who have or make money - but asylum seekers and persecuted activists are shipped home to suffer and die at public expense.

 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Can Nicola Sturgeon keep Scotland in the EU?

For Sturgeon, Scotland's rightful place is in the EU. If that means independence, so be it.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, when Remain voters were still nursing their hangovers, a meme began to circulate on Scottish Facebook pages. It was an image of Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, her arms outspread, with a simple message: “F***in’ calm doon. Am oan it.”

At a time when British politicians are mired in the kind of chaos seen once in a generation, Sturgeon has emerged as a figure of calm. While her fellow Remain campaigners were speaking tearfully to news cameras, she addressed EU citizens, telling them: “You remain welcome here. Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.”

When Boris Johnson declared, “Project Fear is over,” she retorted on Twitter, “Project Farce has now begun.” Her message has been retweeted more than 6,000 times. Faisal Islam, the political editor of Sky News, remarked on air that she seemed to be “the person with the most thought-through plan”.

Sturgeon now presents herself as Scotland’s anchor to Europe. Yet critics view her actions as those of a veteran independence campaigner seizing a chance denied to her by the Scottish referendum two years ago. In reality, she is working for both objectives.

It is hard to imagine now but the Scottish National Party was once suspicious of the idea of an independent Scotland in Europe. The idea took hold thanks to Jim Sillars, the Labour MP who led the 1976 breakaway that formed the Scottish Labour Party. He defected to the SNP in the early 1980s and became one of its strongest pro-EU advocates. The promise of an independent state within a larger framework was soon a mainstay of the party’s campaigns. The 1997 manifesto promised voters “the restoration of self-confidence and the creation of a modern democracy in the mainstream of European life”.

In the early years of the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon’s approach to the EU was one of a negotiator, not an idealist. In 2003, she put forward a motion that the Scottish Executive should oppose the reduction of Scottish seats in the European Parliament from eight to seven. “Scotland, with no seat on the Council of Europe, no commissioners and fewer MEPs than comparably sized independent member states, has little enough influence in the EU,” she argued.

Her interest in representation emerged again in 2005 when she described an EU proposal on software patents as “a serious threat” to developers. She noted that: “There was apparently no Scottish minister at the Council to represent Scottish interests, the UK instead being represented by an unelected member of the House of Lords.”

Sturgeon’s commitment to work with the EU has not always been reciprocated. In the Scottish referendum, as deputy first minister, she promised the continuity of EU membership. Yet José Manuel Barroso, the then president of the European Commission, said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible”, for an independent Scotland to join. Some consider his statement to have been crucial to the success of the No campaign.

When the EU referendum arrived, Sillars, the architect of the SNP’s Europhile agenda, criticised the “love affair” that he believed his party was indulging in and joined the campaign for Brexit. Sturgeon made a different calculation. She threw herself into the Remain campaign, though she was careful not to stand alongside David Cameron. She played down the Scottish independence line – when asked, in the run-up to the vote, if she was a unionist, she described herself as “an enthusiastic European”.

She turned her reputation as a “nippie sweetie” to her advantage. Once viewed as a dour machine politician, now Sturgeon was warm to voters while cutting Boris Johnson down to size. There was no need to scaremonger over Europe, she said. A positive campaign was enough. There is no doubt that she tapped in to the popular feeling: 62 per cent of voters in Scotland opted to remain in the EU, compared to 48 per cent in the UK as a whole. Every local authority area north of the border voted Remain.

As the referendum results rolled in, she prepared to go it alone. “There are no rules,” Sturgeon told Andrew Marr. “The status quo we voted for doesn’t exist.” To her, Scotland’s rightful place is in the EU and if that requires independence, so be it.

She offered to meet Brussels diplomats. She contacted EU institutions. She put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament demanding “the Scottish government to have discussions” in pursuit of “protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU”.

Yet Barroso’s warnings may come back to haunt Sturgeon. She has always painted a picture of an independent Scotland in Europe as one that is nevertheless tied to the British Isles. Its currency is the pound; Scots and the English move freely between Glasgow and Carlisle. EU member states may seize on her proposal, or use it as a way of repeating the rebuff of 2014. Sturgeon the nippie sweetie negotiator has her plan for a European Scotland. Now she must wait for Europe to answer. 

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies