WINDRUSH, Syria, anti-Semitism, the rape clause, split-payment of benefits in cases of domestic abuse; there was a depressingly dismal thread running through last week’s questions to the prime minister.
And after a week that felt like every hour brought one revelation after another of the callous disregard for how people are treated, the SNP’s Ian Blackford was right to ask Theresa May: “What kind of country do we live in?’
At a pivotal point in our history when Brexit demands that we reach out to the rest of the world and show by example that we are a country worth doing business with, we reveal a truly nasty side.
What does it say to the world that we will bomb a country but then not take in its children, that we design immigration policies that suck the life out of incomers and then tell them they have no right to stay, that we welcome Commonwealth leaders to our shores to celebrate our long-standing relationships and then refuse to engage on something as fundamental as whether their people, now our people, get to be called British?
And how then do we convince worried EU immigrants to trust us when we say that their status is secure after Brexit?
When you fundamentally approach immigration as a problem – and see its resolution in terms of numbers that need to be cut – then you embed the notion that all immigrants are bad and need to be “dealt with”.
And when you are the person that strikes the first match that starts the slow burn on the concept of “hostility” as a policy, and you ask landlords, doctors, teachers and banks to act as gatekeepers in implementing it, and the ensuing divisiveness, inevitably, sparks suspicion and stokes the embers of racism, then you can’t stand back and plead ignorance when that fire starts to burn out of control.
“If you lay down with dogs, you will get fleas!” warned an impassioned David Lammy MP in a moving speech in the House of Commons about the emerging Windrush scandal.
And while he was right that tackling immigration in such an ideological way has consequences, it has also been Theresa May’s most defining attribute.
She has approached the issue with a singleminded brutality of cutting numbers, no matter what. She was behind the vans that toured towns telling immigrants to go home and presided over the practice of turfing rough-sleeping EU migrants out of the country.
She removed housing benefit and an immediate accessibility to job seekers’ allowance for EEA migrants. And she introduced a policy of deport first and appeal later.
The treatment of the Windrush immigrants and their families has rightly caught the public eye because it is so blatantly wrong. But it is just a taste of what other immigrants – illegal or not – face. That sense of potential criminality.
This isn’t an accidental consequence of a policy designed to catch illegal immigrants, it was an inevitable consequence of a brutal and fundamentalist approach to immigration which treats people as numbers rather than as human beings.