The Windrush scandal was produced by the unforgiving grind of one department's official machine. As Brexit looms will EU nationals fall victim too?by Amelia Gentleman / October 7, 2019 / Leave a comment
At the height of Theresa May’s mission to create a hostile environment for illegal immigration, the Home Office set up a sub-department within its immigration enforcement team, known ominously as the Interventions and Sanctions Directorate, charged with “encouraging greater compliance with immigration rules.”
There was no publicity about the new unit and so when ambulance driver Winston Robinson received a letter from the Directorate in 2016, he was puzzled. “According to our records, you have no lawful basis to be in the UK,” it read. “You should take steps to leave the UK immediately.”
This instruction to leave the country seemed unbelievable: Robinson had arrived in Britain from Jamaica in 1966 at the age of nine, and he had never once returned to the country of his birth. But neither had he applied to become a UK citizen—it would have seemed superfluous.
And yet an alert from the Interventions and Sanctions Directorate was sent to his employers, a private company providing ambulance services to London hospitals, and he was called in to see the head of HR. Apologetically, she told him that if she didn’t sack him, the company would face a £20,000 fine. He tried repeatedly to explain both to her and the Home Office that a mistake had been made, but to no avail.
Robinson, an experienced ambulance driver who loved his job, was fired. Left without a salary, and told as a non-national that he was ineligible for benefits (despite decades paying taxes), he couldn’t pay his rent and lost his flat. He was forced to sleep on friends’ and relatives’ sofas. In the years that followed, as he tried to untangle his situation, he was pushed into debt. “I was a normal guy with a normal life until the system betrayed me. I was doing a useful job. I was good at it; I served a purpose in society and all of a sudden that was ripped up.”
The question of how on earth this happened to Robinson and others is given new urgency by the approach of Brexit—and especially a potential No Deal. No politician is suggesting that they want to turf out the three million-plus EU nationals living here—any more than anyone openly suggested forcing…