A movement to the right in British politics, issues of Brexit, and a Caribbean demand for reparations all combine to create circumstances in which the UK government cannot be trusted to honour all commitments to the ‘Windrush Generation’ and beyond.
Immigration stands out as the common denominator among social movements affecting Britain. Politicians are finding it beneficial to pander to voters and this indulgence is leading to a wearing away of favourable consideration and rights of Caribbean emigrants.
This was the consensus emerging from a discussion among panellists and members of the audience who recently looked at the welfare and general conditions of existence for persons of Caribbean extraction in the UK.
The occasion was one in a series of lecture presentations looking at experiences of the ‘Windrush Generation’ and what is left of that wave of regional people who moved to England in answer to that country’s call for their labour.
These people of the ‘Windrush Generation’ left mainly from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica between 1948 and 1971 to help rebuild the Britain that had suffered devastation from World War II.
Jamaicans comprised the majority of those answering the call and many of the nationals of the three Caribbean territories departed aboard SS Empire Windrush. In later years, others left by plane.
The general intention was to spend about five years working in the UK and return to Barbados but most ended up labouring to reconstruct England and living there for between 40 and 50 years, then re-migrating.
Owing mainly to efforts last year of former Barbados High Commissioner, Guy Hewitt, many incidents of abrupt deportation of the persons now elderly and retired, who had believed the promise that as Commonwealth members who contributed to the country’s re-development, they were also British and had never bothered to formalise their status, were revealed. Additionally unearthed were many other instances of abuse and denial of rights among others who had documented their UK citizenship.
The uproar stemming from the Hewitt-led action, in collaboration with other Caribbean high commissioners and the British media, resulted in a British government apology with a promise to take back those arbitrarily deported and make the entire ‘Windrush Generation’ the beneficiary of a 200 million pounds sterling fund.
The current lecture series is organised and hosted by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society under the theme, From Invitation to Deportation: 70 Years of the Windrush Generation, and this panel discussion instalment in the series looked at ‘Betrayal’ in promises made and expectations of Caribbean people who went.
Member of the audience in this forum in the BMHS’ Walled Garden, Ras Martin Evanson, appeared to have touched the true feelings of some panellists when he asked about a possible connection of current British treatment of these Caribbean nationals to the call for reparations for slavery along with a recent European Union blacklisting of Barbados, and whether the UK government could be trusted to live up to its 2018 promises.
Hewitt, who was a member of the panel, warned that the historical evidence says British administrators should not be trusted and urged Caribbean governments, current diplomats in the UK and non-governmental organisations to join in ensuring the British keep their word.
“It was only under immense duress that the UK government was willing to come to the table and start to address this,” he said.
Hewitt cited an attempt at further discrimination following the British government’s pledge to compensate as a reason that it cannot be left to honour its word.
“The recent deportation of some persons from Jamaica where there had to be a judicial injunction to stop further deportations again is a sign that the [British] government is pandering to an extreme right.”
He spoke of persons informally termed ‘Yobs’ who are known for supporting nationalist parties in England and said, “Those types have been brought into the political mainstream because they are voting”.
He warned that for this reason, policy may change because the British government, “wants to make it seem that their [Yobs] concerns are reasonable and rational”.
He said the apology issued by current Prime Minister Theresa May is being challenged because of Brexit issues. Strong UK domestic divisions have emerged following Brexit, a UK citizens’ vote for the country to leave the European Union which is causing continuous political disturbances there. Hewitt contended that the Brexit effect has made May’s conservative party desperate: “What you have is a party… trying to pander to the extreme right of society.”
This view was supported by panellist Winston Stafford, who left Barbados for the UK in 1962 and worked his way up from bus conductor to assistant director of social services before returning home in recent years. “The Brexit situation was pandering to racism,” he said.
Reaching further back in time, he pointed to abuses through regulations and otherwise that were customarily meted out to Caribbean people, especially Jamaicans in the UK and said, “If you look at the origin of the attack on those Jamaican people who came on Windrush, it came from the present prime minister when she was Home Secretary. This is not something that just happened.”
Contending that Caribbean governments do not now have a friend in the UK administration, Stafford dismissed the visit of a recent member of the British royalty to Barbados and other regional territories as one of trade interest and not a friendly gesture. “The visit of Prince Charles is tied to looking for new markets, not tied to the goodwill of the United Kingdom.”
Professor Emeritus of History Pedro Welch, another of the panellists, linked the surge in Windrush related discrimination to “a worldwide trend taking place,” and said some of the markers are “very virulent [white] nationalism not only in Europe, but is also found in the United States of America. This whole question of Trump and his people…”
Drawing a similarity of current jingoism to ‘white nationalism’ that existed before the second so-called ‘World War’ he said, “When we see these international movements emerging that says something about an underlying set of philosophies which are beginning to take shape. Those philosophies have an impact on policy formulation. The whole question of blacklisting is that it is part of a broader set of issues that are aiming to reshape the world with Europe and the developed countries at the centre.”
Noting that the current regional quest for reparations is within the idea of repair and restitution, which is similar to the push for compensation and restoration of rights for the Caribbean people abused in the UK, Professor Welch said, “The search for reparations is also tied to what has been happening in Britain. The whole question of the search for justice for the people of the Windrush Generation is tied to the overall search for reparations.”