In November 2014 Jermaine Stewart was jailed for six years for the rape of a woman who had fallen asleep on his sofa after meeting him on a night out in Liverpool and returning with him to his flat for an after-party. Stewart had removed the clothes of the victim whilst she was incapacitated and raped her. As a condition he will be required to sign the sex offenders register for life.
Last week, Stewart was among 37 Jamaican Foreign National Offenders removed from a Home Office deportation flight at the eleventh hour after a sustained campaign by lawyers, Labour MPs, and a number of black celebrities and activists who had written an open letter demanding that the flight be stopped.
The topic of deportation flights has become an increasingly contentious issue post-Windrush, with any action that can be linked to the scandal likely to see its name invoked and an immediate corollary with injustice, incompetence and institutional racism. The issue that the Government has faced stems from underestimating how those opposing the deportation would seize the opportunity to leverage the situation to their advantage.
Control of the narrative around foreign national offender deportations must be regained from the left. Gifting the left-leaning media the opportunity to convince sceptical members of the public that the rationale for these deportations is one based on persecution, rather than a matter of public safety (under legislation brought in by the Labour Party), could easily be avoided.
The open letter sent to Priti Patel by Detention Action, signed by celebrities and activists, was a prime example of how effective the tactics employed by those on the left can be. Amongst the 90 signatories were supermodel Naomi Campbell, actors Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton OBE, historian David Olusoga, journalist Afua Hirsch, and Sky News anchor Gillian Joseph.
The breadth of the letter’s signatories, and the individual platform and reach each enjoys, has allowed the narrative to be dictated by a small group with the media’s ear, glossing over the uncomfortable truth of those on the deportation flight because it is inconvenient to their cause and instead choosing to pitch the removal of serious and violent criminals as an injustice.
A further letter written by Clive Lewis MP, and signed by 70 opposition backbench MPs, made direct reference to the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment, intimating that these deportations were a direct consequence. This letter also made no reference to the criminal records or serious crimes perpetrated by those in scope for removal, nor of the duty to deport them as set out in the UK Borders Act 2007. Somewhat awkwardly for the Labour signatories to Lewis’s letter, eight of them had voted for the legislation in 2007, including Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Jeremy Corbyn.
Nine months ago, a YouGov poll commissioned following February’s deportation flight to Jamaica asked: under which circumstances foreign-born offenders should be deported? Whilst the majority of respondents were in favour of individuals who had committed a serious offence being deported if they had come to the UK as an adult, this fell to less than 50 per cent once other factors were considered; whether the individual had a partner or children, whether they came to the UK as a teenager or child, or whether they were at risk of violence or would lack access to healthcare.
The human-interest angle is thus where campaigners have focused their efforts, and where appeals are (often successfully) made under section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
Allowing those on the left to control the narrative around Jamaican deportations specifically means little in isolation. However, with Twitter now a barometer of left-leaning outrage rather than national opinion, and a Change.org petition calling for a stop to deportation flights having raised in excess of 180,000 signatories, the lack of understanding feeds into the wider narrative that the Conservatives are a racist party and Government actions are part of a dastardly masterplan to oppress ethnic minorities. Its reputation risks death by a thousand cuts
With nearly a third of Labour MPs, including almost all members of the Socialist Campaign Group, having signed Lewis’s letter, the Government should reiterate Labour’s continued willingness to campaign on behalf of convicted rapists, murderers, and those convicted of child sexual offences, rather than the victims. February’s Jamaican deportation flight saw more than 170 MPs voice their opposition, with a number taking the additional step of joining protestors outside Downing Street.
Labour’s willingness to ignore the legislation that clearly states the duty of the Home Secretary to deport offenders where the conditions are met, further illustrates how little Labour can be trusted to enforce the law when the opportunity for ideological point-scoring regarding identity politics is a factor.
Additionally, during the last year of Labour’s Government there were more non-EU foreign national offenders deported than in any year since, and three times as many as in 2019. This hypocrisy should not go unnoticed.
As the party of law and order, the country has always relied upon the Conservatives to adopt a robust approach to crime and policing. The element of public confusion surrounding last week’s deportation flight has stemmed from the misinformation published by opposition MPs. This was further reiterated by Holly Lynch, the Shadow Immigration Minister, during the media round and written about in a slew of well-distributed opinion pieces online.
The public is almost entirely unaware of Operation Nexus and its success in the removal of over 30,000 foreign national offenders since 2012, and even more so that it’s application has been applied to the deportation of EU nationals more often than not: in 2019, 68 per cent of all those deported were from the EU. These figures could and should be made easily available, both reiterating the success of the Operation and deflecting criticism that the deportation flights are solely focused upon the country’s black population.
Increased focus upon racism and inequality shows little sign of abating. An Opinium poll this weekend has shown that the majority of those surveyed believed the Black Lives Matter movement has in fact increased racial tension within the UK. Much of the negative opinion expressed at the deportation flight focused on a mistaken perception of the deportations. Those criticising the flight placed a strong emphasis on the deportees being black British, a description that resonated with the view that the UK’s black population is being systematically targeted, despite none of those being deported being British-born, or British citizens.
It seems simplistic, but the Government would do well to make clear from the outset that those being deported are not British citizens and should strive to make clear the abhorrent nature of the crimes committed by those being deported.
The deportation of foreign national offenders should be an easy win for the Government. A robust approach that sees serious and violent offenders removed from the UK should set the tone that this Government will continue to take an uncompromising stance on those foreign citizens who enjoy the freedom and opportunity that this country offers but choose to abuse it by committing criminal acts.
At the same time, the Government should strive to get ahead of the inevitable left-wing backlash that will ensue by proactively communicating both the intent and the detail. By allowing news to leak out slowly the perception that the deportation is underhanded will only fester and grow.
Keeping the public informed of the measures the Government is taking to keep its citizens safe, and why, will expose those who wish to champion murderers, rapists and child sexual offenders and make it harder for them to marshal support.