One-Way Ticket

Sadakat Kadri

According to Suella Braverman, there are a hundred million foreigners who currently ‘qualify for protection’ in the United Kingdom. The home secretary is proposing to arrest everyone who crosses the Channel to claim asylum. ‘Illegal arrivals’ are to be detained for 28 days, with no right to bail or judicial review. It isn’t clear where they’ll go then (‘some of the nation’s finest legal minds’ are apparently working on that), but the Illegal Migration Bill’s provisions will apply retrospectively. That’s only fair, Braverman reckons, because ‘the British people are … affronted by the queue jumping [and] the gaming of our system in the small boats crisis.’

As Braverman herself may remember from growing up in London in the 1980s, it used to be quite common among racists to label or insult non-white people as ‘illegals’. There’s no indication she cares about that today – but, like Priti Patel and Dominic Raab, she’s always been determined to differentiate her foreign-born parents from undeserving immigrants. The lawfulness of her father’s arrival from Nairobi in 1968 has therefore become central to her political back story.

She mentioned him at the beginning of her maiden Commons speech. ‘On a cold February morning in 1968, a young man, not yet 21, stepped off a plane at Heathrow airport, nervously folding away his one-way ticket from Kenya,’ Braverman recalled in May 2015. ‘He had no family, no friends and was clutching only his most valuable possession, his British passport. His homeland was in political turmoil. Kenya had kicked him out for being British.’ Four months later, speaking in support of tighter immigration controls, she added a dramatic detail. Escaping to England, she said, ‘probably saved his life’.

In fact, Braverman’s father was neither expelled nor threatened with death. Like everyone who’d retained their UK passport at independence, his prospects had been dimming – Kenyan laws had recently made non-citizens ineligible for work permits and trading licences – and members of the Asian minority had started emigrating in substantial numbers. But when Christie Fernandes joined the exodus, he wasn’t prompted by pressures in Kenya. The timing of his departure was determined by racism in Britain, fuelled by right-wing Conservative politicians.

The crisis began in October 1967, when Enoch Powell warned the Conservative Party Conference that the existence of UK passport holders in Kenya amounted to ‘an unforeseen loophole’. It meant that 250,000 Kenyan Asians had rights of entry to the United Kingdom, he said, with potentially ‘monstrous’ consequences. In an atmosphere of growing panic, calls for emergency legislation peaked in February 1968: more than a thousand Kenyan Asians (including Braverman’s father) flew into Heathrow that month because they could see the door was about to close. Harold Wilson’s Labour government rushed a bill through parliament in a week. In the name of ‘fairness’ and ‘equitable treatment’, it withdrew assurances previously given to UK citizens in Kenya and restricted immigration from across the Commonwealth. The only exceptions were those (overwhelmingly white) citizens with a parent or grandparent born in the UK.

There were critics, even on the right. The Times, under the editorship of a 39-year-old William Rees Mogg, condemned the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 as a shameful ‘response to prejudice’. But Powell doubled down. In his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech to Birmingham Conservatives two months later, he demanded that the government move from restrictions to repatriation. Unless people were ‘returned home’, England would continue to ‘heap up its own funeral pyre’ – and the future he foresaw was ‘foaming with much blood’.

Suella Braverman is no orator, more given to dog whistles than allusions to Virgil. The only vision of the future she’s ever publicly articulated (calling it a ‘dream’ and ‘obsession’) involved a planeload of asylum-seekers being flown to Rwanda. But, whether or not Gary Lineker is right to say the government’s language is ‘not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s’, one historical comparison is apt. Braverman’s demand for backdated punitive expulsions echoes the incendiary rhetoric of Enoch Powell. Even if her father wasn’t illegal – because he reached England’s shores just in time – that should be a cause for shame.


  • 15 March 2023 at 3:54pm
    Patrick Cotter says:
    Martin Rowson's cartoon in the Guardian is 'on the ball', showing the zombie ghost of Enoch saying to Sunak 'I don't like the look of you, but I love what you've done to the place'. 20% of the current population of the Republic of Ireland was not born here. We Irish are left scratching our heads at the behaviour of the British, in their country with a population of 67 million, thirteen times ours in size, booting out European migrant workers which their economy desperately needs and hysterically reacting to the prospect of needing to absorb a few thousand refugees/migrants crossing the channel, thousands, not millions, not even hundreds of thousands, whose presence should hardly be noticed among 67 million.

    • 15 March 2023 at 5:08pm
      Trevor Walshaw says: @ Patrick Cotter
      It's not just our next door neighbours who are scratching their heads - some of us in the UK (until 2017) are as well. I am now happily settled in Spain - but had I qualified I would have had an Irish PP
      Trevor Walshaw

  • 15 March 2023 at 4:48pm
    jimmaloney says:
    What particularly made me angry was that in her speech the Home Secretary claimed that what she was doing was the 'will of the people'.
    She has no right to include me in that claim.
    How would any of us feel if we are so desperate that we chose to flee thousands of miles to a country where too often we will be met with hostility and insult? Nevertheless, very many make that ghastly attempt and most of them are refugees. Lord Dubs' words in the House of Lords this week are a reminder that there is still decency and compassion in this country.
    Jim Maloney

    • 15 March 2023 at 7:32pm
      steve kay says: @ jimmaloney
      Them of us as reads the LRB and the Grauniad and lives in Wales certainly ain’t people of Sue Ellen’s world.

  • 15 March 2023 at 7:10pm
    Rosalind Patching says:
    I couldn't agree more with Mr Maloney. In fact I have written to my utterly spineless 'all is heaven and sweet content in the Tory shires' MP to say the Bill is not only cruel but utterly disingenuous. Not in my name, you don't. I can't stop you, but don't you dare drag in all of us to justify your wicked performance.

  • 15 March 2023 at 10:39pm
    Harriet says:
    It's always the same rubbish. I've got me own, now piss off! This Braverman person is an old package wrapped in new ribbons, but it's the same old garb. We have the same rubbish here in the good old USA, in the form of Nikki Haley. Ms. Haley is plagued by the same disease as Ms. Braverman. Historical amnesia and self-loathing.

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