The independent London newspaper

No place for ‘medieval’ deportations in the 21st century

13 February, 2020

Boris Johnson

THE government, and the Conservatives in general, are unlikely to give way on the row about deportations of foreign national offenders, many who have lived in the UK for a long time and been convicted of minor crimes.

The outraged voices of well-meaning, often young people, fighting against the treatment of those sent back to Jamaica this week, keeps the immigration pot boiling nicely for the Tories.

It is straightforward pandering to the core vote.

It whips up reactionary outrage about the rule of law. Send ’em home. Think only for the victims.

The frenzied debate over immigration was fundamentally the trigger for Brexit and Boris Johnson’s rise to power.

It will come as no surprise to many on the left to see him using racism to shore up his position. His 81-seat majority makes it easier for the PM to force through more attacks.

Banishment has no reasonable place in a supposedly progressive 21st-century society.

It was used extensively as a plot device in many plays by William Shakespeare, perhaps most memorably in Romeo and Juliet.

The punishment was, rarely, used in Elizabethan England for crimes not considered serious enough for death or torture. Only if they returned, would they face the pain of death.

Bonnie Greer, speaking on Newsnight this week, was right to class the deporta­tions as “medieval”. The government had “put them on a ship and sent them to oblivion”, she said.

It is a colonial mindset similar to the treatment of British convicts sent to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries, when more than 162,000 were transported from Britain and Ireland to various penal colonies. Around 24,000 were women.

Many political prisoners were removed in this way.

But the majority were convicted and transported for petty crimes. These history lessons should not be forgotten.

In the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday), outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn drew parallels between crimes committed by young black men, brought to this country as children, and Mr Johnson’s own admission of drug use in his younger years.

Mr Corbyn added: “This cruel and callous government is trying to mislead the British people into thinking it is solely deporting foreign nationals who are guilty of murder, rape and other very serious offences. This is clearly not the case.

“The government has learnt absolutely nothing from the Windrush scandal.”

And he is right.

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