ON the face of it, the UK’s Conservative cabinet is amongst its most diverse ever, with persons of colour in top positions. Leading the pack is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who traces his roots to the subcontinent and is his country’s first Hindu leader. Yet paradoxically the attitudes of many in the British cabinet — particularly the descendants of immigrants — towards immigration are shocking, and in many respects reflect the talking points of the hard right and white nationalists. Commenting on record levels of net migration to the UK recently, Mr Sunak said that legal immigration levels were “too high”, and that he wanted to bring them down. Yet the British PM’s observations on the topic are comparatively progressive in the backdrop of the gems his Home Secretary Suella Braverman produces. Ms Braverman, who is also of Indian heritage, is not the most politically correct member of the British cabinet. Recently, she was criticised for implying that child grooming and other sexual crimes were the preserve of Pakistani men in the UK. British academics have called her comments on the subject “inaccurate [and] divisive”. The home secretary, a big fan of the erstwhile British Empire and its supposed achievements, is also very tough on immigration, championing the cruel policy of shipping off asylum seekers to Rwanda, and calling for visa restrictions on workers, students and their families.
The irony of the fact that the children of immigrants are calling for clamping down on migration is lost on no one. If the policies of Ms Braverman and Mr Sunak had been in effect several decades ago, their forebears may never have made it to British shores. Countries, of course, have a right to control who crosses their borders. But blaming immigrants for all of society’s troubles is a dangerous, xenophobic narrative championed by the extreme right worldwide. It can normalise violence against people of colour, and result in the permanent ‘otherisation’ of migrants. Moreover, aside from economic migrants, many of those heading towards the UK and other Western countries hail from war zones and fractured states which have been devastated by invasions and regime-change operations spearheaded by Western-led coalitions. Apparently, the West has ample funds to wage war in the Global South, but closes its borders when the wretched of the earth knock at its doors for refuge.
Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2023