I am here, because you were there.

We are here, because you were there.

My ancestors were British subjects. But they were not British subjects because they came to Britain. They were British subjects because Britain came to them, took them across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. That is why I am here. That is why the Windrush generation are here.

I quote Martin Luther King who himself quoted St Augustine when he said that an unjust law is no law at all. So I say to the Minister: warm words mean nothing. Guarantee these rights and enshrine them in law.

And 230 years after the Abolitionist movement wore their medallions, I stand here as a Caribbean, Black, British citizen and I ask the Minister on behalf of thousands of Windrush citizens:

Am I Not a Man and a Brother?

My speech from the debate on the Windrush petition yesterday:

I am proud to stand here on behalf of the 178,000 people who signed this petition.

I am proud to stand here on behalf of the 492 British citizens who arrived on HMT Empire Windrush from Jamaica 70 years ago.

I am proud to stand here on behalf of the 172,000 British citizens who arrived on these shores between the passage of the 1948 Nationality Act and the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, including my own father who arrived from Guyana in 1956.

But it is a very dark episode in our nation’s history that this petition was even required.

It is a very dark day indeed that we are here in Parliament having to stand up for the rights for people who have always given so much to this country and expected so little in return.
We need to remember our history. In Britain when we talk about slavery we tend to just talk about its abolition.

The Windrush story does not begin in 1948. The Windrush story begins in the 17th century, when British slave traders stole 12 millions Africans from their homes, took them to the Caribbean, sold them into slavery to work on plantations.

The wealth of this country was built on the backs of the Windrush generation’s ancestors.

We are here, because you were there.

My ancestors were British subjects. But they were not British subjects because they came to Britain. They were British subjects because Britain came to them, took them across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. That is why I am here. That is why the Windrush generation are here.

There is no British history without the history of the Empire.

As Stuart Hall put it: “I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea”.

And then 70 years ago as Britain lay in ruins after the Second World War the call went out to the colonies from the Mother Country. Britain asked the Windrush generation to come and rebuild the country. Work in our National Health Service. Work on the buses and the trains and as cleaners and security guards. So once again, labour was used.

They faced down the No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish signs. They did the jobs nobody else would do. They got spat on in the street. Assaulted by the Teddy Boys, the skinheads, the National Front. Spat at in the street. Lived 5 to a room in Rachmanite squalor. They were called and they served but my God did they suffer for the privilege of coming to Britain.

And yet my God they triumphed too. Sir Trevor McDonald. Frank Bruno. Sir Lenny Henry. Jessica-Ennis Hill. National treasures.

Knights of the realm. Heavyweight champions of the world and Olympic champions wrapped in the British flag. Sons and daughters of the Windrush generation, as British as they come.

And after all of this the Government wants to send us back across the ocean. They want to make life “hostile” for the Windrush children. They strip them of their rights, they deny them healthcare, they kick them out of jobs, they make them homeless, they stop their benefits.

And they are imprisoned in their own country. Centuries after their ancestors were shackled and taken across the ocean in slave ships, pensioners are imprisoned in their own country.

It is a disgrace. And it happened here because we don’t remember our history.

Last week the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Questions the Prime Minister said: “We owe it to them and the British people”.

The Home Secretary said that the Windrush generation should be considered British. That they should be able to get their British citizenship if they so choose.

This is the point the Government simply still do not understand. The Windrush generation ARE the British people. They ARE British citizens. They came here as citizens. That is the precise reason why this is such an injustice. Their British citizenship is, and has always been, theirs by right. It is not something that the Government is now choosing to grant them.
Can I remind the Government of Chapter 56 of the 1948 British Nationality Act.

Every person who under this Act is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies shall by virtue of that citizenship have the status of a British subject.

The Bill uses the term British nationality by virtue of citizenship.

I read this Bill again last week when reading over the case notes of my constituents caught up in the Windrush crisis.

Patrick Henry. A British citizen. Arrived in Britain in 1959. A teaching assistant who told me “I feel like a prisoner who has committed no crime” because he is being denied citizenship.

Clive Smith. A British citizen. Arrived here in 1964, showed the Home Office his school reports and still threatened with deportation.

Rosario Wilson. A British citizen. No right to be here because St Lucia became independent in 1979.

Wilberforce Sullivan. A British citizen. Paid taxes for 40 years. He was told in 2011 he was no longer able to work.

Dennis Laidley. A British citizen. Tax records going back to the 1960s. Denied a passport and unable to visit his sick mother.

Jeffrey Greaves. A British citizen. Arrived here in 1964. Threatened with deportation by the Home Office.

Cecile Laurencin. A British citizen. 44 years of National Insurance contribution letters, payslips and bank account details. Application for naturalisation rejected.

Huthley Sealey. A British citizen. Unable to claim benefits or access healthcare.

Mark Balfourth. A British citizen. Arrived here in 1962 aged 7. Refused access to benefits.

The Windrush generation have waited for too long for the rights that are theirs. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over. There comes a time when the burden of living like a criminal in your own country becomes too heavy to bear any longer. That is what we have seen in the last few weeks – an outpouring of pain and grief built up over many years.

And yet Government Ministers have tried to conflate this issue with illegal immigration.

On Thursday the Home Secretary said “I am personally committed to tackling illegal migration”, making it difficult for illegal migrants to live here and removing people who are here illegally”.

Indeed, during her statement last Thursday the Home Secretary said “illegal” 23 times but did not even once say the word “citizen”.

This is not about illegal immigration. This is about British citizens. And frankly it is deeply offensive to conflate the Windrush generation with illegal immigrants to try to distract from the Windrush crisis.

This is about a hostile environment policy that blurs the lines between illegal immigrants and people who are here legally and even British citizens. This is about a hostile environment not just for illegal immigrants that but for anybody who looks like they could be an immigrant.

This is about a hostile environment that has turned employers, doctors, landlords and social workers into border guards.

The hostile environment is not about illegal immigration.

Increasing Leave to Remain fees by 238% in 4 years is not about illegal immigration

The Home Office making profits of 800% on standard applicants is not about illegal immigration

The Home Office sending back documents unrecorded in second class post so passports, birth certificates and education certificates get lost is not about illegal immigration

Charging teenagers £2,033 for limited every 30 months is not about illegal immigration

Charging someone £10,521 in limited leave to remain fees before they can even apply for indefinite leave to remain is not about illegal immigration

Banning refugees and asylum seekers from working and preventing them from accessing public funds is not about illegal immigration

Sending 9 immigration enforcement staff to arrest my constituent because the Home Office lost his documents is not about illegal immigration

Locking my constituent up in Yarl’s Wood so she missed her Midwifery exams is not about illegal immigration

Denying legal aid to migrants who are here legally is not about illegal immigration

Changing the terms of young asylum seekers’ “immigration bail” so they cannot study is not about illegal immigration

Sending immigration enforcement staff to a church in my constituency serving soup to refugees is not about illegal immigration

The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have promised compensation. They have promised that no enforcement action will be taken. They have promised that the “burden of proof” will be lowered when the taskforce is assessing Windrush cases.
The Windrush citizens don’t trust the Home Office and I don’t blame them. After so much injustice they need justice.

I quote Martin Luther King who himself quoted St Augustine when he said that an unjust law is no law at all. So I say to the Minister: warm words mean nothing. Guarantee these rights and enshrine them in law.

And 230 years after the Abolitionist movement wore their medallions, I stand here as a Caribbean, Black, British citizen and I ask the Minister on behalf of thousands of Windrush citizens:

Am I Not a Man and a Brother?

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About Author

David Lammy MP

Labour MP for Tottenham, former Higher Education and Skills Minister, author of 'Out of the Ashes: Britain After the Riots', and suffering Spurs fan.

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