Priti Patel has been criticised of “deeply insulting and patronising” behaviour by victims of the Windrush scandal after she branded those calling for deportation flights to be stopped as “do-gooding celebrities”.
Campaigners wrote a letter to the Home Office and said Ms Patel’s remarks were “ill-judged and ill-informed” – they also accused the home secretary of using the Windrush name to score political points.
They reacted after Patel used a newspaper interview to hit out at more than 80 black public figures who called for the cancellation of a deportation flight to Jamaica of several convicted criminals.
The public figures who include author Bernardine Evaristo, model Naomi Campbell, historian David Olusoga and actors Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton, warned that if numerous flights go ahead with the deportation, there is a risk of the unlawful removal of people who have the right to remain in the UK.
They wrote: “We, the leading Windrush campaigners and organisations, cosigned the same letter as other leading black figures – many of whom have parents and grandparents of the Windrush generation – to express our significant concerns with her mass deportation flight to Jamaica.”
In her interview with the Daily Mail on Friday, Patel claimed it was insulting to see “ill-informed Labour politicians and do-gooding celebrities attempting to conflate the victims of Windrush with these vile criminals set for deportation”.
Signatories included Natalie Barnes, whose mother Paulette Wilson was erroneously detained and threatened with deportation, and Anthony Bryan, who was also wrongly held for five weeks, before being booked on to a flight “home” to Jamaica despite not having been there in more than 50 years.
Mr Bryan said he had been upset by Patel’s comments, adding: “I’m still waiting for the Home Office to do right by me.”
Mr Bryan, 62, arrived in the UK as a child in 1965 on his brother’s passport. He said he was “upset and angry” over the comments, and that these criminals were “not Jamaica’s problem” because they have grown up in the UK.
Patel referred to those targeted for deportation as “rapists and murderers” but Jacqueline McKenzie, a solicitor at McKenzie Beute and Pope, who has worked on Windrush cases, said not all of them were very serious offenders, and the original list of names for proposed deportation had included many people who had been in the UK since childhood and whose offences were less serious.
According to Press Association (PA), the Home Office would not say whether any of the 36 individuals had immediate relatives who were from the Windrush generation.
Ms Patel told the Mail that “the Windrush scandal is a stain on our country’s history”, adding that their “generation made an enormous contribution to our country and were wronged by successive governments”.
Labour’s immigration spokesman, Holly Lynch, has led MPs’ opposition to the deportations, telling the Commons on Monday the full consequences of the Windrush scandal had not yet been established.
She added: “With that in mind, what assessment has been made to ensure that none of those scheduled to be on the flight are eligible under the Windrush scheme, or have been affected by the wider immigration injustices that impacted the victims of the Windrush scandal?”