We should be more worried about Theresa May's migration policies

Madeleine Crowther
British Prime Minister Attends The 37th Gulf Cooperation Council
May has yet to change her approach when she was home secretary now that she's PM (Source: Getty)

While on the one hand 2016 saw the rise of inward-looking, nationalistic politics, no year to date has forced so many of us into a truly global anxiety about the near future.

How will the rise of far-right groups impact EU decision-making on collective concerns? In what unpredictable way will Trump’s America leave its mark on the world? Will Britain weather Brexit to remain a big international player?

This last question is especially significant as the UK could become a lone voice championing human rights among the UN Security Council’s five permanent members, as the US and France embrace worrying strains of populism.

Read more: Theresa May says UK could continue to pay into the EU budget

However, we cannot guarantee that Prime Minister Theresa May will fare well as the world’s moral voice. It is instructive to look at the legacy she brings to bear as our former home secretary, and so at the likely continuation of her approach toward migration.

Out of sight, out of mind

May has followed and will likely continue to pursue the model of containment on migration, both abroad and on our shores.

This approach could be summarised as "out of sight, out of mind".

What this looks like in foreign policy terms is a reneging on human rights principles in order to cut deals with transit countries aimed at stemming migration near source – a deal agreed with Turkey earlier this year is a prime example.

There’s also been a major shift to outsource border control to the African countries from which refugees flee, for instance under initiatives with pariah states like Eritrea and Sudan.

Read more: Will Brexit really take 10 years? We asked the experts

At the same time there’s a failure to meaningfully deal with individuals’ reasons for fleeing. A great many of those who reach Britain are escaping persecution and conflict, but it’s become unfashionable to talk about our moral responsibility to prevent atrocity crimes.

Of course May is not alone in this, these are truly global failings, but where she is unique is in her insistence on abusing the rights of migrants in the UK.

It is a little-known fact that Britain is alone, certainly in Europe, in detaining migrants and survivors of genocide or torture, indefinitely, purely for administrative convenience, and without judicial oversight.

Read more: Outgoing IoD Director-General warns against immigration restrictions

There should be no mistaking immigration detention for one of the gravest civil liberties issues of our time. But repeated calls to end this cruel practice during May’s tenure as Home Secretary fell on deaf ears.

She should change her approach as our prime minister. We can’t expect her to create peace on earth and single-handedly uphold the "responsibility to protect" agenda, but as the potential future moral voice in the UN's permanent five, this is an obscenity about which she cannot afford to be silent.

Related articles