Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

UK Nationality and Borders Bill would force ship's captains to turn their backs on drowning asylum-seekers and is helping to foster racism

My heart went out to Bukayo Saka when he missed that penalty on Sunday. To take the decisive shot and lose a contest which had been so hyped, would be a crushing disappointment for anyone. But, in that moment, I knew this teenager would also be on the receiving end of vicious abuse - not because he missed, but because he is black.

And it happened, not just to Saka, but to the other black English players too. Nasty, vicious, racist abuse hurled through social media. What started as a football game, exploded to become the dominant social and political issue of the week.

The response of the football authorities, the players, and the majority of English supporters, has been exceptional; resisting the racists and pledging solidarity with the players targeted. But it’s awful that, having made so much progress on this front, endemic racism not only exists on this scale, but its practitioners feel able to argue their case with confidence.

The UK Tory government would, of course, be appalled at the suggestion that they are in some way responsible for the racist outburst against the black English players. Most would anyway.

It’s not that they explicitly promote racism, but they create the environment in which it festers. Look no further than the Nationality and Borders Bill which Westminster will debate next week. This is, in effect, an anti-asylum bill. Amongst the many objectionable clauses is one which would make it a criminal offence to help people arrive in the UK if you believe they might seek asylum.

The RNLI and others have pointed out that this would be in contravention of international sea laws which Britain has signed up. Consider the attitudes behind a clause which tries to force captains in charge of a vessel to turn their backs on drowning migrants. This is what we call the hostile environment.

This bill is the latest in a long line. After Brexit, the government could simply have continued the rights of EU citizens living here. They didn’t. Instead they made people apply for “settled status”.

Meanwhile, Tory backbenchers and the right-wing press try to subvert attempts by institutions like UEFA and FIFA to reject racism and support black communities. Central to this has been the controversy over taking the knee; a simple action of solidarity which has been politicised by those who oppose it. The Home Secretary’s actions here are shocking, chastising players as indulging in gestures, and refusing to condemn fans who boo-ed them.

Gareth Southgate is derided as “woke”.  A generation ago he would have been labelled “politically correct” by the same people. In the 70s I expect they’d have called him out as a do-gooder. These labels are used to belittle and undermine people simply trying to do the right thing.

In Scotland, the same ignorant repulsive attitudes still hold sway in some of our communities. But here our government is unequivocal in its opposition to racism.

Two months ago, the people of Glasgow took to the streets to stop the Home Office detaining their neighbours. They won. And they were supported by Scottish ministers. That’s the spirit and attitude that will inform a new Scotland when we get to decide these matters for ourselves.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 16th July 2021

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