Blithe or rabid comparisons to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party are never hard to come by in any walk of life, but when they’re not confined to internet forums and Twitter, recently in British politics they have been as much a preserve of the right. Take for instance the New Labour fanatic and prominent party donor Michael Foster, who after losing his battle to prevent Jeremy Corbyn standing for re-election as Labour leader, wrote an article in the Mail on Sunday which referred to ‘Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung’.
Whether summoning the Nazi Party or other forms of fascism, or instigating a Red Scare and portraying Corbyn and his supporters as insurgent Trotskyites, most of the time such comparisons are buoyed by hysteria, or nothing more than snide insults intended to smear their targets, crude and lacking insight. But while May and her cohorts used the Conservative Party conference to gesture vaguely towards an economic middle ground, when it came to immigration and human rights the display of overbearing, blustering, bloody-minded nationalism was both shocking and unambiguous.
The already surging wave of anti-immigrant sentiment broke at the start of what was Theresa May’s first party conference as Prime Minister, when she stated that the United Kingdom will trigger Article 50 – commencing the two-year period of negotiation ahead of Britain’s formal exit from the EU – by the end of March. May emphasised that she will place immigration at the very centre of talks, saying ‘We will do what independent, sovereign countries do. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws’.
The remark was taken by many to indicate a government heading in the direction of so-called ‘hard Brexit’, which would eschew freedom of movement and also place Britain outside of the single market, with economic repercussions estimated in the tens of billions of pounds.
But it was Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s conference speech, and her subsequent attempts to clarify prospective government policy around the issue of foreign workers, which showed the extent to which ‘hard Brexit’ also means the rampant xenophobia of the far right. Rudd bemoaned foreign workers ‘taking jobs British people could do’, suggesting that while some companies were ‘doing the right thing’, others were ‘getting away’ with employing from abroad rather than looking first towards locals.
She then proceeded to outline more restrictions on international students, a plan which would negatively impact on a group who currently contribute £8 billion a year to the British economy, providing British institutions with around 30% of their income. And she pledged the deportation of EU migrants found guilty of minor crimes, while encouraging landlords, employers, and banks to become part-time immigration officials, suggesting that if they provided their services to illegal immigrants, prison spells could soon result.
The briefing notes to Rudd’s speech confirmed that a Home Office consultation paper would include an option requiring companies to publish their number of international staff. And as she sought to defend the idea – pleading ‘don’t call me a racist’ in the now-familiar way by which those on the right stifle criticism in the name of ‘reasonable concerns’ – she refused to rule out naming and shaming companies who failed to comply.
Rudd said that the policy was ‘not something we are definitely going to do’ but was ‘one of the tools’ at the government’s disposal, conceived ‘as a way of nudging people into better behaviour’. She went on to cite one business in her Hastings and Rye constituency which, she alleged, employed ‘almost exclusively from Romania and Poland’.
Implicit in the idea of forcing companies to publish their number of international staff is a threat, which holds that by making such information public, British consumers may to punish those with the wrong sort of values by taking their business elsewhere. The logic, stated less directly and targeted more broadly, is the same that led to the Nazi boycott of Jewish business in April 1933. What is the Conservative Party’s final solution for immigrants to the United Kingdom, or at least the solution which would allow them to reach the magical target of immigration reduced to the tens of thousands?
Rudd’s proposal was condemned even by members of her own party. Neil Carmichael, Conservative MP for Stroud, said ‘This unsettling policy would drive people, business, and compassion out of British society and should not be pursued any further. People coming to the UK to work hard, pay their taxes, and make a contribution to our society should be celebrated not shamed. This kind of divisive politics has no place in 21st Century Britain’. Rudd swiftly if unconvincingly backtracked.
It was left to Theresa May to close the conference with more contemptible swill. This woman who illicitly barred or deported thousands of people during her reign as Home Secretary, and who presided over detention centres which, overcrowded and lacking healthcare, became fertile grounds for sexual abuse, who hired vans telling immigrants to ‘go home’ and in her downtime signed dodgy deals with Saudi Arabia, declared that it was now Labour, not the Tories, who should be considered Britain’s ‘nasty party’.
In another swipe at immigrants, she blamed them for unemployment and low wages, suggesting that for many poor Brits, ‘because of low-skilled immigration, life simply doesn’t seem fair. It feels like your dreams have been sacrificed in the service of others’. She said that if you ‘believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’, less a statement of political reality than an attack on our shared humanity, which under the guise of being tough on tax evasion, had the added benefit of demeaning stateless refugees.
And she vowed ‘we will never again, in any future conflict, let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave, the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces’, giving carte blanche to all manner of military abuses when Britain next wages an illegal and devastating war, while further preparing the ground for the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, which will make rights impossible to contest and uphold in British courts.
A version of this article was originally published at The Shimmering Ostrich.