Broken pledge: Children to be sent back to immigration detention

One of the Coalition government’s first - and best - policies was to end the detention of children in immigration removal centres. But now it looks like May’s government is about to reverse that process.

A written ministerial statement today announced the closure of Cedars, a removal centre for families run by the charity Barnardo’s. Instead, the people who would have been sent there will be moved to a “discrete unit” at Tinsley House removal centre, near Gatwick.

Discrete or not, the children of those families will be back in an immigration detention centre.

On one level, the move is justifiable. Cedars had hardly anyone in it, which is one of the ironies of successful detention - if it’s going well, it’ll be used less. And it was very expensive indeed. The recent Shaw review into detention had suggested it be closed, or repurposed.

But regardless of cost or use, one thing is clear: children who had once been able to stay in a reassuring, unthreatening environment will now have a much worse experience.

Barnardos, who caught flack from some quarters for being involved in the detention estate, had gone to a lot of effort to make the centre look nothing like what it actually was. The praise was almost universal, even from those a bit squeamish about the compromises they'd made getting in bed with the Home Office. I have never read reports - of prisons or detention centres - as positive and gushing with praise as the ones written by the inspectorate about Cedars. Barnardos aren’t happy about the decision and won’t be transferring over to Tinsley House.

This isn’t happening in isolation. It’s part of a pattern.

Section 95 support, which offers £36.95 a week per person to families with children between failing an asylum claim and leaving the country or regularising their status, is being radically limited. Now that support will only be made available if they can show that there’s an obstacle stopping them from leaving the UK. That means no accommodation and no financial support for these children. No food and no roof over their heads. No medicines, or books or clothes.

Morally, it’s catastrophic. We are punishing children for the behaviour of their parents. But on a practical level it is completely counter-effective. By forcing families into destitution, by closing centres like Cedars, we are removing any incentive for these families to work within the system and engage with authorities. Instead, we encourage them to fall off the radar.

At best, it’s short-sighted. At worst it’s morally bankrupt.

Ian Dunt is the editor of

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners

May's first PMQs and she wipes the floor with Corbyn

She looked like she'd been doing it for years. From her first words to her last, Theresa May appeared supremely comfortable leading PMQs. It was effortless. Terrifyingly so. It was hard to shake the feeling she'd be doing it well into the future.

Certainly she'll have no problem beating Jeremy Corbyn, although that is not a high bar to set. Even if he was better at PMQs, the catastrophe which is the Labour party means opposing him is like shooting fish in a barrell. And the benches behind the opposition leader are so nakedly critical of him that it's hard to imagine him ever being able to muster any confidence or momentum in these exchanges.

But even if Corbyn was much better, I suspect May would still have excelled here. She found the right tone and words - specific, but without getting dragged down into technical language, as Corbyn tends to do. She projected a sense of competence and sturdy government in a period of sudden change.

It was also refreshing to have a change from David Cameron's easy bluster and evasion. May's answers were concrete, full of content, specific. There was more substance here and less flash.

But everything pales in comparison to May's Thatcher moment. It was astonishing. Like some ghostly possession, the spirit of Maggie was suddenly within her.

"It's interesting that he refers to the situation of some workers who might have some job insecurity and potentially unscrupulous bosses," she said. "I suspect that there are many members on the opposition benches who might be familiar with an unscrupulous boss. A boss who doesn't listen to his workers, a boss who requires some of his workers to double their workload and maybe a boss who exploits the rules to further his own career."

Jokes don't come easily to her. She couldn't hide the fact that they'd been written for her. But she managed to get them out with relative ease. It was passably funny.

And then it came. Like a scene in an M Night Shyamalan film. Maggie rose from out the grave, sought out a host body in the form of the new prime minister, and spoke out.  

"Reeeeemind him of anybody?" she asked, in that oddly screechy baritone Thatcher would use. 

A shiver travelled up my spine and stayed there. It may never leave. It was like the final scene in a slasher film where the kids think they've fought off the antagonist, only for them to suddenly turn up for one more round. You thought you got rid of her? Well think again.

It made it hard to shake the feeling that, like Thatcher, May will be sat in Downing Street for years. And why not? She could hold an election tomorrow, or as planned in 2020. If it's Corbyn standing against her, she'll win. She'll probably win whoever is standing against her.

Away from the theatrics, Tory MP Edward Leigh asked a question about the single market. The answer was more important than anything else which was said today, although it will obviously be overshadowed by the resurrection of Maggie moments earlier. He wanted the prime minister to say we'd be leaving the single market. May refused to do so. Yes, there needed to be "controls on free movement" but we also needed "the right deal on trade". That was as reassuring a message as we've heard from her that the UK would be staying in the single market, despite chancellor Phillip Hammond's confused statements earlier this week. Even the phrase 'controls of', rather than 'the end of' suggests she will be pursuing a moderate strategy in Europe.

Now May holds her first meeting with Angela Merkel this afternoon. It is far more important than anything happening in Westminster. Cameron always thought he had Merkel wrapped around his little finger, but, like Blair and Bush, he had overestimated his influence and came back from his renegotiation empty handed. Merkel may well prefer May’s careful, policy-orientated, unflashy style. If so, that relationship could spark some much needed goodwill from the continent and prove to be decisive in the years ahead.

May won the Commons without breaking a sweat. Now she must win over the Germans. That could prove a more challenging task.

Ian Dunt is the editor of

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners

A new politics forms in the furnace of Brexit

Everything is connected: Brexit, Trump, le Pen, Isis - even Ghostbusters. They're all part of the same story.

It's been nearly a month since the Brexit vote and Remainers are still in a daze. Most struggle to articulate why it's so emotional, why we feel so bereft and angry. Surely this isn't all for the EU itself, an institution no-one showed any real love for in the years leading up to the referendum, or even now as we hope to get back in. Surely it's not because Britain faces a problem with trade deals?

The details seem so much smaller than the strength of feeling in the country. Why can't we just do what the Brexiters loudly insist, and accept it? Move on. Get with the programme.

It's because this was never about the EU. This was the culture war. It is the single greatest question of our lifetime, the one which defines this moment for the West: do we accept globalisation? Do we share goods and people and culture across the world, or do we retreat into our closed identities? Nativism versus globalism.

Hope Not Hate's post-referendum survey of Leave and Remain voters suggests something remarkable is happening to us. Brexit appears to be redefining the British public politically. Everything is on its head. All the people who were typically the most pessimistic and grumpy about Britain - the people who complained that the country had gone to the dogs - were suddenly the happiest. And those who were typically the most upbeat about modern Britain are now furious.

The report splits the UK population into six camps. On one extreme are the two groups most open to immigration and multiculturalism - the Confident Multiculturalists and Mainstream Liberals. On the other extreme, the two groups most hostile to these ideas are Active Enmity and Latent Hostiles. In the middle are Immigrant Ambivalence and Culturally Concerned. As the names imply, they're worried about rapid social change and services, but they're open to being convinced.

Since Hope Not Hate's February report, the number of English people identifying themselves as being in the two most pro-immigration tribes has risen from 32% to 38%. There's been a drop in support for the two most anti-immigration tribes, from 24% in February to 20% now.

There is a remarkable shift taking place on the losing and winning side, and a reaffirming of core beliefs. Ideas about multiculturalism and diversity which were once implied are becoming explicit - they're becoming ways that we self-identify. Amid all the anger at the Brexit vote, there is also a sense of a generation finding its political voice and its solidarity.

This correlates to the chaotic changes we've seen in the two main Westminster parties. Labour is in a state of absolute disarray, but the clash of personalities just reflects a deeper ideological malaise. Immigration is a wound at the heart of the party, preventing it from bringing together traditional support in its northern working class heartlands with middle class liberalism in London and the cities.

The Tories would be in precisely the same state right now if it weren't for one little rule, a very sensible rule which has saved them as a functioning party: the three month window between membership and voting for the leader. Without it, Ukip supporters would have flooded the party to back Andrea Leadsom (and with that knowledge, she may well have stayed on). They would have been practising entryism of an almost identical sort to Momentum in Labour. That would have forced the party to go through the same civil war on Ukip's nativist lines. And even now, with May installed as prime minister, the specifics of EU negotiations mean the party is likely to find itself torn between those who believe in global capitalism and the more patriarchal Little Englander Tories for whom cultural identity takes precedence over the economy.

Look overseas and see our own problems mirrored a thousand times over. Donald Trump is a walking Brexit. Where the phrase 'take back control' dominated the referendum, he promises a wall against Mexico and a ban on Muslims entering the US. But it's not just the policy - the emotions are identical too. Take Trump's promise to make Mexico pay for the wall. That's the real kicker in the policy. Crowds at his rallies love the way it implies strength, total dominance, superiority. It is identical to the swaggering ignorance of Brexiters talking about how the EU will accept whatever trade deal we give it, or how Brussels doesn't get to call the shots anymore. It's the emotional frustration of those who feel powerless, disguised with bravado.

In France, Marine le Pen stands waiting for the stars to align for her to make a credible attempt for power. The constant stream of terrorist atrocities hitting the country only makes it more likely, just as the horrific glimmer of race war in the US makes it more likely Trump could secure the White House. Across Europe - in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and more - the same trend plays out: angry forces of cultural purity harking back to an age of simplicity and political control. They offer easy solutions for manageable worlds. Post-truth politics is not a driver of this trend, it is a result of it. You can't propose such childlike solutions if people really understood the problem.

What are groups like Isis, except for particularly grotesque, murderous variants on this same theme? The violent drive towards cultural purity, the retreat - in this case bloody and unimaginably cruel - into old identities, the rejection, above all else, of mixing. They are the equivalent to our National Front, or BNP, or EDL, or whatever form the far-right takes in this country when it marches through immigrant areas and demands they all go home.

There is a cultural battlefront to this struggle on the internet, even though it seems absurd and maybe even a little dodgy to compare them. But strip out the murderousness and the mllennialism and you find the same political instincts on display with the alt-right online.

Right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was recently barred from Twitter for whipping up a hate mob against Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones. The film was attacked throughout its production by weirdly entitled men online, angry at the fact the reboot features female characters rather than male ones. Even as it opened, Jones, who is black, was targeted, by a barrage of orchestrated racist and sexual abuse.

Yiannopoulos would very often whip up these hateful pile-ons against people on Twitter - nearly always women. The site he writes for, Breibart, which - and this is not a coincidence - is a big supporter of Trump in the US - typifies one side of the culture war. When the latest Star Wars film came out over Christmas, it branded it an "extended propaganda promo for women in the military" and said John Boyega's character should have been called 'Token'.

It sounds absurdly trivial to bring this up in this context. But if you scratch below the surface of that type of commentary you find political instincts similar to the other, more serious, instances on this list. These are two fully fleshed out characters - one a woman, one a black man - fronting the biggest film of the year. That was considered frightening, something which had to be shot down, something to be criticised. Just six months later, that cause has morphed into organised hate mobs directed at Jones, who seems to have now quit Twitter, just like countless women and ethnic minorities have had to quit it before her, because of the tide of hate and physical intimidation directed their way.

Here again we see the fear of diversity, of mixing. They don't want ethnic minorities or women on TV, or reviewing video games, or being represented in any way in the mainstream, which should in their view stay as white as it was in the 1960s. Anything else is 'tokenism' and anyone that supports it a 'social justice warrior'.

Of course, voting Brexit is not the same as abusing people online. And abusing people online is not the same as being a terrorist. But all these trends are products of the same fundamental political conflict.

Many on the left have, depressingly, adopted a similar posture. The fight against 'cultural appropriation', which reached a lunatic peak with the kickback against Justin Bieber getting dreadlocks, is made from the same stuff: a desire to retreat away from cultural sharing to a less complex innate identity, this time on race. The demands for racialised 'safe spaces' on campus imagine that there is a fundamental moral and empathetic barrier between people of different races which we will never be able to dismantle, no matter how good our intentions.

The mainstream political articulation of this trend on the left comes from the SNP, who transcribe the same phenomenon to national identity. Their progressive programme involves more borders, more division, more retreat. They play the same game.

Everywhere you look - the secular and the religious, the right and the left - are demanding their little cul-de-sacs of identity. They want them secured by putting up barriers to immigration, or by social rules against cultural mixture, or by Twitter hate mobs, or by the knife and the bomb. But these are all echoes of the same thing: the nativist dread of globalisation.

It's been a month since the referendum and we're still depressed because we know that the campaign we lost was about much more than the EU. It was about what kind of a country this is and what kind of role it has in the world. But the Brexiters demanding people quieten down and accept the result are being very naive if they think it's over. They won a battle, not the war.

We're witnessing a realignment of British political life along culture war lines. Brexit wasn't the end. It is the furnace in which the new politics will be made.

Ian Dunt is the editor of

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners

Latest entries