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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.