“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” Speaking in 2012 when she was Home Secretary, Theresa May was describing the UK Government’s attempts to ensure that life was made uncomfortable for people from other countries who overstayed their visas.
Vans with large signs telling illegal immigrants to “Go home or face arrest” were part of the strategy, along with a crackdown on employers who failed to check the status of their staff.
However, given her comments were made amid a broader drive to reduce net migration, illegal or not, there was always a chance that such policies and the accompanying rhetoric would start causing problems for overseas citizens here legally and, indeed, citizens of this country.
And so it proved. The Windrush scandal saw people wrongly detained pending deportation and refused re-entry into the UK even though they were born in this country or as British subjects. Some lost their jobs or homes or were refused medical treatment.
In April last year, Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary, noting the “justifiable outrage” and admitting she had “inadvertently misled” the Home Affairs Select Committee over the issue.
The ‘hostility’ towards illegal migration had spilt over to affect people who had done nothing wrong, the tough rhetoric creating a sour mood that some in Government perhaps beginning to regret.
In Scotland, the level of immigration has not been an issue in the same way as much of the rest of the UK. Most politicians agree that Scotland needs to attract people to move here because the number of births is currently running below the number of deaths. If we are to have enough people to pay taxes to support the rest of us in our dotage, we need migrants.
New figures from the National Records of Scotland show that the current population is at a record high of 5.44 million, after a rise of 13,300. But that figure would have fallen without net migration – from the rest of the UK and overseas – of 20,900 people.
Enforcing the law is important and unquestionably the right thing to do, but it must be done justly. And politicians would do well to choose their words carefully to avoid unintended consequences.
It is in Scotland’s interests to maintain a “friendly environment” to those from outside its borders and it’s also the right thing to do.