The origins of the Windrush scandal lie in 30 years of racist immigration legislation aimed at shrinking the UK’s non-white population, according to a leaked government report.
The stark conclusion was spelled out in a document commissioned by the Home Office that officials have repeatedly tried to suppress over the past year.
The 52-page analysis by an anonymous historian, which was seen by the Guardian, describes how “the British Empire depended on racist ideology to function”, and explains how this affected laws passed in the period of ‘after war.
He concludes that the origins of the “deep-rooted racism of the Windrush scandal” lie in the fact that “during the period 1950-1981, every piece of immigration or citizenship law was designed at least in part to reduce the number people with black or brown skin who have been allowed to live and work in the UK”.
He finds that the scandal was caused by a failure to recognize that changes to UK immigration law over the past 70 years have had a more negative impact on black people than on other racial and ethnic groups.
“As a result, the experiences of black British communities of the Home Office, Law and Life in the UK have been fundamentally different from those of white communities,” the report said. “Major immigration legislation in 1962, 1968 and 1971 was designed to reduce the proportion of people living in the UK who were non-white.”
Why officials were reluctant to release the document was unclear. MP Diane Abbott, who unsuccessfully tried to get the document published through the Home Affairs select committee, said the Home Office seemed ‘unwilling to acknowledge the racism that has marred immigration policy British for decades.
The report was commissioned by the Home Office as part of a commitment to educate officials on the causes of the Windrush scandal, which has seen thousands of people wrongly classified as illegal immigrants by the department. After the scandal, ministers agreed to teach the Home Office’s 35,000 staff about British colonial history and the history of black Britons.
The report, titled “The Historical Roots of the Windrush Scandal”, focuses on 20th century immigration law, rather than more recent events, such as the effects of hostile environmental policies introduced by Theresa May when she was Minister of the Interior.
The anonymous Home Office historian writes: ‘The British Empire depended on racist ideology to function, which in turn produced legislation aimed at separating racial and ethnic groups… From the start, the ‘Commonwealth immigration concern was about skin colour’. In the 1950s, British officials shared a “basic assumption that ‘coloured immigrants’, as they were called, were no good for British society,” the report said.
The document summarizes decades of “dysfunctional relations between British institutions and black and ethnic minorities” and concludes: “Britain’s border policy, administered for over a century by the Home Office, is now inextricably linked to race and with Britain’s colonial history.
Wendy Williams, the independent inspector advising the Home Office on changes to be made after Windrush, said in March she was “disappointed” that the report had not been published a year after authorities announced it. have approved. It has been made available to staff internally, but requests for publication have repeatedly been turned down.
A Freedom of Information request for the document was denied. Acknowledging that the subject was “a matter of legitimate public interest” and that “openness and transparency” were important, the request was nevertheless rejected on the grounds that the Home Office’s response to the Windrush scandal included sensitive issues involving policy making”. . The publication of the document could “hinder discussions and the ability of ministers to take free and frank advice”.
Immigration historians said it was odd to suppress taxpayer-funded history work. There was speculation over whether the report had been held up internally for a year because its findings contradicted the government’s narrative on race. Last year Tony Sewell’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report on race said there was no evidence to suggest Britain was an institutionally racist place. Last month the Prime Minister told Parliament: ‘For centuries our UK has a proud history of welcoming people from overseas.
Simon Woolley, the former CEO of Operation Black Vote and chairman of Racial Disparity Unit No 10 in July 2020, said the refusal to make the report public was “shameful”. “The government is determined to deny the systemic nature of racial inequality and in this climate historical facts have become uncomfortable truths that must be hidden,” he said.
The report also cites a letter from West Indies Federation Prime Minister Sir Grantley Adams to Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Sir Grantley protested that “Britain has begun to take measures which are no different in kind from the basis on which the apartheid system in South Africa rests” by introducing the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962.
Juanita Cox, a researcher at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, working on a research project into the Windrush scandal, said: ‘If they accepted that the Home Office legislation from before 1981 was institutionally racist, the legislation current one could also come under scrutiny and turn out to be even worse. The British immigration system is in total contradiction with the proud image it gives of welcoming immigrants.
Immigration lawyer Grace Brown, who has represented a number of Windrush victims, said the fallout from the legislation is still being felt. “There is no justifiable reason why the continued and lasting effect on individuals of historic discriminatory legislation and policy should not be addressed and corrected today,” she said.
A Home Office spokesperson said the department would not name the historian who wrote the story, adding that the Home Office was making progress to ‘become a more compassionate and open organisation’ .