Frontbencher calls deportation of criminals “grey area” but backs call to cancel flight

Elliot Chappell
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Lucy Powell has described the deportation of migrants with criminal records as a “very grey area” but backed calls from MPs and peers for the government to cancel the flight scheduled to deport up to 50 people this week.

Discussing the flight this morning on Times Radio, the shadow business minister told listeners that she did not disagree with the principle of deporting criminals but accused the government of taking a “brutal” approach.

Asked if she supports the call to stop the flight, she said: “I do… On the face of it, lots of people are thinking well these are serious criminals, we need to deport them and send them back home. And I don’t disagree with that in general terms.

“But I think where we’ve got into real difficulties with this in the past… is that there is a very grey area about whether, especially when it comes to those from the kind of Windrush community and Windrush generation and their descendants, it’s a very grey area whether someone is in fact a British citizen or not…

“The government seem to, I’m afraid, just have a very brutal approach to this. And that’s what led to the Windrush scandal in the first place.”

LabourList understands that Powell wrote to the immigration minister and successfully campaigned for one of those scheduled to be on the flight not to be included in the deportation action.

The comments from Powell come after a letter, coordinated by Labour backbencher Clive Lewis and signed by more than 60 MPs, called on the government to cancel the deportation. It was not signed by Keir Starmer.

The letter reminded Priti Patel that the Tories have committed to “righting the wrongs” of Windrush and argued: “Planning a pre-Christmas mass deportation flight demonstrates that the Home Office has so far failed to learn any lessons.”

Put to Powell this morning that only one of the deportees is thought to have a Windrush generation family member, and that these are “just criminals”, the shadow minister said: “Well, as I say, it’s not as straightforward as that.

“I’ve actually got a constituent due to be on that flight myself, and it isn’t that straightforward. This is where we got into this hot water before. And I’ve had other constituents being earmarked for deportation, too.

“I think the issue is are they our criminals or are they somebody else’s criminals? And I think there is a grey area there, which the government I’m afraid gets wrong. Of course, the easy thing to say is we’ll just ship them off…

“But if you’ve lived and worked, legally been allowed in this country for decades and decades and you then fall foul of the law, is that our issue or is that somebody else’s and how do you deal with that? That’s the issue, and that is a grey area.

“And many of those on the plane – and we don’t know, we haven’t got all the details – you know, will be connected with the Windrush and that’s why the government in the past has had to stop some of these deportations…

“They need to be more transparent about it and give more confidence to people that they’ve got this right, but unfortunately all that confidence is gone because of the Windrush scandal and the way they got that so terribly wrong.”

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tabled an urgent question in parliament regarding the flight scheduled for Wednesday this week. She told MPs: “No-one opposing this flight condones any of the crimes that these individuals have been found guilty of.

“It is the process of mass deportation that is fundamentally wrong, and it is notorious for bundling people out of the country without due process…

“I hope the minister agrees that no-one is above the law, not even the government, and that no one is beneath adequate defence and proper legal representation, not even those born in other countries.”

The Streatham MP asked the minister whether the deportees had received adequate legal advice and representation, and whether any had been allowed to appeal the decision to remove them from the country.

She highlighted the recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report on Home Office policies, which found that the department had unlawfully ignored warnings that the hostile environment was discriminatory.

Ribeiro-Addy added: “The Home Office has got it wrong again and again on immigration. Will it therefore think again, halt this deportation flight and finally end the illegal hostile environment?” The minister rejected calls to cancel the flight.

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