THE British Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, intends to force British employers to surrender to the government a list of all their foreign workers and EU citizens – including those from Ireland. It’s part of her plan to ‘prevent immigrants taking jobs that British people can do.’
For the 600,000 Irish-born immigrants in Britain the future is suddenly dark. They’re wondering if the place is returning to the bad old days when job hunters were met with signs declaring: ‘No Irish, no Blacks, no Dogs need apply’?
And it’s a feeling reinforced by an unpleasant speech Rudd gave at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham earlier this month. In her vision of a post-Brexit Little Britain, where racism and bigotry are barely concealed, non-EU workers will be the first to be booted out.
Then it will be the turn of EU citizens who do not have British citizenship – and this could include Irish academics, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, architects, office cleaners, builders, engineers, teachers, and highly educated graduates in finance and technology.
Rudd will publish the lists of names that she wants from employers, with the intention (presumably) of shaming businesses, universities, hospitals, factories, etc, that she considers are not doing enough to employ genuinely British people. Also for the chop are landlords who do not certify the immigration status of their tenants, taxi companies and those sinister Johnny Foreigners skulking within the banking and property area.
The nasty party
In there too will be pregnant women forced to hand over their passports and to produce proof of right to remain in Britain before they give birth at NHS hospitals. The response from civilised English people to the government plan has been one of horror and disbelief. Business leaders denounced the Tory shift to the extreme right as reckless, pointing out that immigrants benefitted the UK economy in a huge way.
Lord Bilimoria, the Indian-born chancellor of Birmingham University, said the proposal was ‘absolutely shocking.’ Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn said the Conservative Party had sunk to a new low as it fanned the flames of xenophobia and hatred.
‘What next?’ asked MP Paul Monaghan of the Scottish National Party: ‘Make immigrants and EU citizens wear special badges and stop them owning anything?’
But, perhaps, it was the charismatic Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who best described the Tory line of thinking. ‘Theresa May and Amber Rudd’s picture of Brexit Britain is a deeply ugly one – a country where people are judged not by their ability or their contribution to the common good but by their birthplace or by their passport’.
Interesting too that, whereas the percentage of foreign-born people in Ireland amounts to 16.4%, in the United Kingdom it is 12.3% of the population. Yet xenophobic problems by and large have not been a serious feature of the Irish experience.
Not so in the UK where, after the Brexit vote, police registered a huge increase in hate crimes and complaints of racial abuse. Which raises this question: if intolerance is on the rise in Britain how long will it be before the Irish once again become the target of prejudice? Particularly within a scenario where the British media does little to calm the public’s nerves over immigration!
Of course, historically some of the finest British writers were not slow to take a jab at ‘inferior’ people. JB Priestly, for instance, was partial to the idea of a clearance of the Irish from the Clyde to Cardiff: ‘what a fine exit (that would be) of ignorance and dirt and drunkenness and disease,’ he said in a most refined and sophisticated way.
Indeed Paddy-bashing has a long tradition in Britain. The British essayist, Thomas Carlyle, famously said that Ireland was like a half starved rat that crosses the path of an elephant. ‘And what must the elephant do?’ he asked. ‘Squelch it – by heavens – squelch it!’
Certainly, the Tories are slow to explain the Brexit consequences should Britain definitively pull the plug. How, for instance, will they resolve the contradiction between expressing approval for free trade and at the same time opposing the free movement of people between Britain, Ireland, and Europe?
Such a conundrum didn’t bother two of the vilest newspapers in the world, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, as they recently launched a savage attack on anti-Brexit EU-Remain campaigners.
In a front-page editorial, penned by Paul Dacre, the Mail screamed: ‘Damn the unpatriotic Bremoaners and their plot to subvert the will of the British people.’ He described Brexit critics as whingeing, contemptuous and unpatriotic.
This was the same newspaper that called for Irish people to be banned from UK sporting events because the IRA was disrupting public transport. On another occasion it stood accused of publishing ‘some of the most virulently anti-Irish journalism for decades,’ having sneeringly described Ireland as a land of pigs and potatoes.
Last week, the Daily Express hysterically ranted that it was time to ‘Silence EU Exit Whingers,’ which some commentators interpreted as dangerously provocative.
Indeed, the bigoted commentaries on Brexit were reminiscent of the first owner of the Daily Mail, Viscount Rothermere, who during the 1930s supported Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists when it was targeting British Jews.
In an interview in one of Rothermere’s newspapers, Mosley answered questions about Jews in Britain. The comments, if slightly altered, could apply just as easily to the current paranoia regarding emigrants, refugees, EU citizens and the Irish.
Here is what he said about Jews: ‘They must, like everyone else, put ‘Britain first’ or leave Britain.’ When asked if Jews would be persecuted under Fascism, Mosley replied: Bullying or persecution of any kind is foreign to the British character. But those who have been guilty of anti-British conduct would be deported.
He explained that what he meant by Jews or foreigners referred to people ‘who set their racial interests above the national interest and who had not proved themselves worthy citizens of Britain.’ In no circumstances would they be afforded the full rights of British citizenship.
Chilling stuff, if you substitute ‘emigrant’, ‘refugee’, Irish or ‘EU citizen’ for Jew or foreigner! The message then and now is simple: the repatriation or ‘removal’ of all non-white, non-Anglo-Saxons in the UK – and that’s the line the gutter press is now pushing.
Against such a background, for a British government in the 21st century to stir up sectarian antagonism is a measure incredibly beyond the norm, and a despicable course of action.
It’s doubly reprehensible when fuelled by the insane belief that race and cultural differences make some people morally, intellectually and socially superior to others –and yet that seems to be the basis on which the Conservative government is structuring its immigration policies.
Britain is on a slippery slope.