The Runnymede Trust’s newly-launched project Our Migration Story is a timely reminder that migration has underpinned Britain’s national story for centuries. We need it now more than ever.
Unlike America, which has migration at the heart of its national mythology, public awareness of our own is low. There isn’t much consideration about the different ways that inward migration has shaped the country, nor how Britain’s extension of her borders out into the world did either.
While the experiences of Native Americans and Trans-Atlantic slavery are regularly aired as a reminder of the dark underbelly of the American Dream, Britain’s public nostalgia for Empire doesn’t often extend to a more inclusive vision of British citizenship.
We’re more comfortable thinking about a “plucky island nation going it alone” rather than the subjugation of people and the extension of our borders around the globe. We want the resources but not the people.
Brexit falls neatly into that continuum. Hardcore Brexiteers are willing to risk losing access to the single market just to end free movement.
But while the EU sets about bolstering its expert Brexit negotiation team, The Telegraph breathlessly reports that a group of MPs is calling for the Royal Yacht Britannia to be recommissioned to “rule the waves again” and help to secure new trade deals.
Donors will be approached from across the Commonwealth, which, in the Brexit narrative, is supposed to be grateful for the privilege. This is Project Snowflake: so far, so delusional.
Brexit promises only seem tangible on symbolic stuff: blue passports here, a yacht there, metric measures overboard. The infamous NHS pledge has been ditched. And the shocking deportation of over 40 Jamaicans went ahead without a squeak from those who just months ago promised they would level the playing field for non-EU migrants.
Many of those who were deported had lived here all their lives and were brought here as children; others were still processing their paperwork. Families were told they could get by on Skype. Brexit might mean increased trade with Commonwealth nations but some things don’t change. We want the trade deals but not the migrants.
This week Prime Minister Theresa May took the floor at the UN to campaign for a narrowing of legal routes for resettlement in Western countries in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Austerity may be officially over but its cruel logic that favours “tough” choices as long they are visited on the vulnerable lives on. We’re told that there’s just not enough to go round.
Last week, a 14-year-old Afghan boy who had a legal right to be reunited with his family here died when he fell from a truck trying to get into Britain. He risked his life because he didn’t trust the system, which is slow, difficult and focused on keeping people out rather than upholding their dignity. Experts warn that this situation benefits people traffickers. It shames us.
The reasoning is, the less we help refugees or spend abroad, the more we have to spend at home. But at home cuts have put the fiscal squeeze on those least likely to be heard, like refuges serving women fleeing domestic violence, disability-assisted housing and homeless accommodation.
These decisions are not inevitable. They are a choice. We could make different ones.
White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.
Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi