Written by:
Grace Brown

The origins of the Windrush scandal lie in 30 years of racist immigration legislation

Read time:
4 min

The origins of the Windrush scandal lie in 30 years of racist immigration legislation


In her Windrush Lessons Learned Review, Wendy Williams recommended that the Home Office should, in partnership with academic experts in historical migration, “devise, implement and review a comprehensive learning and development programme which makes sure all its existing and new staff learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons”.

The Home Secretary readily responded to this, stating that“We are developing a historical guide to identify the roots of the Windrush scandal, have held talks with staff to explore the Home Office’s history, and aim to have a history training programme in place from June 2021”.

In the absence of a ‘historical guide’ or Home Office ‘history training programme’ Wendy Williams observed that although this particular recommendation might not be fully implemented due to the need for ‘continuous review’, she was disappointed to find that the learning programme has ‘yet to be finalised and rolled out’. The delay appears to have arisen out of a failure to resolve the difference of opinion between those in the Home Office who wish to refine the quality of the training before introducing it, and others who recognised the benefits of providing it more quickly and refining it as it was rolled out. It  is Wendy Williams’ view that the Home Office needs to implement the recommendation ‘without further delay’, noting that the launch of the programme is due by September 2022.

It  is therefore difficult to understand why ‘officials’ have, reportedly, repeatedly tried to suppress a Home Office commissioned Paper that suggests the origins of the Windrush scandal lay in 30 years of racist immigration legislation. The  52-page analysis allegedly describes how “the British Empire depended on racist ideology in order to function” and sets out how this affected the laws passed in the post-war period. If this is the same report, Wendy Williams expressed her disappointment that, more than a year after sign off , is yet to be published just internally.

It t is difficult to understand why this paper is allegedly being suppressed, given that the racial motives behind colonial and post-colonial immigration control is a matter of public record. 

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 Act introduced a Voucher Scheme for those Commonwealth citizens who wanted to settle in the UK. Then Home Secretary, Rab A Butler, said  in respect of the scheme:

 “The great merit of this scheme is that it can be presented as making no distinction on grounds of race or colour, although in practice all would-be immigrants from the old Commonwealth countries would almost certainly be able to obtain authority to enter … We must recognise that, although the scheme purports to relate solely to employment and to be non-discriminatory, its aim is primarily social and its restrictive effect is intended to and would, in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively. …”


Almost 6 years later, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 was rushed through Parliament. The then Home Secretary, James Callaghan, stated:

“We need, as a matter of urgency, to introduce a Bill extending immigration control to Citizens of the UK and Colonies who do not belong to the UK”

Britain’s colonial legislative history is not deeply buried. It lies just beneath the surface of current law and policy and may even be reflected within the Windrush Scheme itself. The Home Office must now publish the Paper it commissioned and start, as a matter of urgency, ensuring its staff fully develop their understanding of the historical roots of the Windrush scandal.

Grace Brown is an experienced barrister with a practice that particularly focuses on human rights, immigration and refugee law. She is regularly instructed in Windrush injustice cases and in Windrush compensation Scheme claims.

Write for us

Why not write for Britain's number one race equality think tank? We are always interested in receiving pitches from both new and established writers, on all matters to do with race.

Share this blog


Join our mailing list

Join our community and stay up to date with our latest work and news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.