Nelson's Column: The real British way is to embrace refugees as neighbours

As those of you who correspond with me regularly know, I nearly always reply to emails.

The exception is when they’re sexist, homophobic or racist – gratifyingly rare occurrences.

Immigration control is a legitimate subject for debate, but that discussion is sullied when nastiness creeps in.

The British are mostly not like that. And it shows how far we’ve come in accepting migration as part of British life when we’re comfortable watching a sitcom about it.

Channel 4’s new series Home tells of an asylum seeker fleeing Syria’s civil war who hides in a holidaying family’s car boot at Calais and moves in with them. Hopping on a dinghy wouldn’t have been as funny.

They ask how they can make him feel at home. “Tear down a couple of walls,” he replies. “And blow up the toilet.”

I know of a real Syrian refugee family – husband, wife, their parents and two children, one disabled – now living in Kent.

The real British way is to embrace refugees as neighbours, not treat them like invaders


The council put them in a five-bedroom house with wheelchair access in a pretty village, and some locals objected – until the facts emerged.

The house was empty for a year because no local family met the criteria for it, and the housing ­association was about to sell up, denying the council its future use.

Money and clothes flooded in for the Syrians and a church group spruced up the garden.

But this is nothing new. A half-century ago our former African ­colonies began “Africanisation” schemes following independence.

The Asians Victorian Britain had imported to build roads and railways and administer them were ordered to leave. Kenya began the expulsions, followed by mad Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who gave them 90 days to get out with just £50 apiece.

Tory PM Ted Heath tried to wheedle out of our obligations, but international pressure forced him to relent and 28,000 Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK over the 1972-3 winter.

There were protests because homes were few and jobs scarce, and the racist National Front was rising in popularity.

But there was also much kindness.


Organisations such as the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the British Council of Churches and the West Middlesex British Asian Relief Committee mobilised 30,000 volunteers.

They sourced clothing, bedding and electric fires against the harsh winter, and even dhals, lentils and spices – rarer back then – to welcome the newcomers.

Ugandan Asians made successful lives here and are now considered immigration’s great success story.

The real British way is to embrace refugees as neighbours, not treat them like invaders.

Easter chaos will leave egg on MPs’ faces

Theresa May is planning to cancel a week of Easter for MPs if they do not pass her EU withdrawal deal

If MPs do not pass Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal this week, the PM is going to egg them by cancelling a week of Easter.

Commons staff have already been told no more requests for leave over the holidays will be accepted.

Mrs May banned MPs from going away for half-term last month, though many ignored her and hit the ski
slopes anyway.

But it still cost taxpayers dearly. Parliament lost £90,000 in income from visitors, paid out an extra £10,000 to staff, and coughed up £300,000 postponing planned building work.

A no-deal Brexit will cost us dearly too.

Of the 240,000 British companies which will need licences to trade with Europe, only 40,000 have registered.

And future flights to the United States, Canada, Israel, Morocco, Switzerland, Norway, Albania and 10 other countries are still iffy.

Still, Albanian criminals will be pleased. We won’t be able to deport them.

Failing Grayling

Useless Transport chief Chris Grayling advises Irish drivers with UK licences to exchange them before Brexit or they must pass another test. What a great name for an examiner… Failing Grayling.

Call on Maureen

Spare a thought for Maureen Short, wife of new farms minister Robert Goodwill. She operates a 24-hour helpline for hubby’s Scarborough and Whitby constituents.

Clearly she’s never seen All Creatures Great and Small. now she’ll be getting calls in the middle of the night for lambing, calving and colic.

Holocaust haunts us

Labour needs to be reminded of the importance and horrors of the Holocaust

The Holocaust is the only compulsory subject on the national curriculum for history.

That must be right. As the terrible events of 80 years ago fade into history, children should know they are separated from them by just four generations.

Labour needs to be reminded too.

Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to curb anti-Semitism has led to eight MPs quitting, and now the threat of an Equalities and Human Rights Commission probe into possible law-breaking.

In pressing Israel to allow a Palestinian state, Corbyn himself got into trouble for his warm words about Hamas and Hezbollah.

He doesn’t use the term Zionist any longer but he did, and in a way Jews found insulting.

For insensitivity it’s up there with Amber Rudd calling Diane Abbott “coloured”.

Corbyn never thought his language would come back to haunt him.

But then he never thought he would be Labour leader either.

And now that he is, careless talk costs votes.

Out for the count

Returning officers are prepared in case Theresa May springs a snap General Election on them.

The officers are called that because they return the election writs with the names of the winning candidates on them.

But I’m told these need careful scrutiny as they’re often completed in the early hours when returning officers are dog-tired.

So instead of putting down the victorious MP’s name, they absentmindedly sign their own.

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