Defying an unjust and evil law is no crime – it’s a human obligation.

5 November 2022

Rev Dr Iain Whyte, our former Chair and trustee, blasts Suella Braverman in this hard hitting speech. We promised we would print it.

I’m delighted to be here and to be a supporter of Positive Action in Housing, where many years ago, I served on the Board and as Chair. I’m a retired Church of Scotland Minister, and an active member of the Iona Community.

I’ve been campaigning for and hosting Asylum seekers with my late wife for over half a century. I have never felt more angry and ashamed of being a British citizen courtesy of the post-Brexit passport I have recently renewed.  

The late Tony Benn was mocked when he said that we were moving towards a police state, and one of the books that I have recently been reading is  Paul Mason's How to Stop Fascism. It is characteristic of populist tyrannies that they play on xenophobia and boy, have we been seeing this in Britain in recent days.

To speak of those seeking refuge as invaders and to demonise them and the motives of the most vulnerable is the pejorative language skillfully employed in my early lifetime by Adolf Hitler's populist propagandist Joseph Goebbels. And it has been coming from two Home Secretaries, both of whose parents sought refuge in Britain.

It's not just words alone but actions deliberately designed to prevent those who seek refuge here, the deliberate failure to provide decent accommodation and forcing people to live in hell holes, the ludicrous callous attempt to stop the RNLI from doing their job of rescuing people at sea (that one fell flat on its face) and the boasting about violating international law in human rights and bringing in legislation, that tears any humanity to shreds.  

The Home Secretary says she dreams of sending more people to Rwanda, and the latest proposal is to export asylum seekers to Peru – to join Paddington bear. Of course, it would be a high farce and good copy for Private Eye if it were not so tragically serious.  Ukrainian refugees are welcomed because it suits the Conservative political agenda, and of course, they are white Europeans. Yet the Home Office has messed up the system here.  

A few years ago, those of us who were on the Cross Party Group at Holyrood on asylum and refugees heard the Chief Inspector of the Home Office declare it to be ‘unfit for purpose, reflecting what many of us knew when we visited or demonstrated at Brand Street in this city. ‘Unfit for purpose’ is one thing.

The late Stanley Hope, a fellow member of the Iona Community and Community Relations Officer in Lancashire, warned us that Britain's Immigration policy was becoming increasingly racist. It has now reached epic proportions.

Two years ago, two of us in the Iona Community drafted and sent on behalf of the Community a critique of the Priti Patel bill, which is now law. Not only does it violate international law, let alone human rights, but not only are the statistics and the claims in it wholly false, but the whole thrust of it we would not hesitate to characterise as evil. You may not have realised that in Clause 11. Not only are undocumented asylum seekers arriving in Britain criminalised, but so are any of us who assist and protect them.

This is what, in 1851, the Fugitive Slave Act did for those courageous men and women, white and black, in the Underground Railroad helping those who liberated themselves from slavery; it was precisely what happened in Nazi Europe for those who assisted Jewish people, it was done in Bush’s and Trumps America to those who provided water and medical care to migrants crossing the desert from Mexico—criminalised for fulfilling the basic best practices of all religions and humanity. 

This is now the law in Britain in 2022, brought in by the children of two migrants. My friend Stuart McDonald the  SNP  front bench spokesperson on the Home Office, told me recently that he knew of 6 fellow MPs to the right of Suella Braverman. This is not just scary but shows the depth of where we are.

In my 82 years, I have never been more convinced that there needs to be a mass movement of all races, religions, and common humanity to rise up and say ‘enough’ It may not be long before we are silenced in law. There is some ugly stuff on speech and protest being threatened, but let's remember  Dr Martin Niemoller’s words in the 1940s after he had been in a concentration camp  ‘First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, The Trades Unionists, the Jews, and I didn't speak out because..etc.Then they came for me, and no one was left to speak for me.’

I want finally to suggest four points of action – all of us may not be able to take them all, but all of us can do something to stand against this poisonous tide.

1. Support the work of Positive Action and other organisations working for relief and campaigning for change.

2. Sign petitions and letters and add your name to protests. Some may remember Janey Buchan - a great campaigner. She once quoted Dr Henry Prais, who came to Britain as a child refugee from Naziism. He said, ‘Never pass by a petition. I am alive today because your parents or grandparents signed a petition to bring me here.’  

3. Be prepared to show solidarity in all kinds of ways with those who are suffering in Marston, in Dungavel or Colnbrook or other awful places. There are all kinds of ways to do that. Stanley Hope organised local people in Rochdale when the BNP were marching down the streets to stand or sit in solidarity with those in the local Asian community.

4.. And consider direct action as the people of Glasgow have done, blocking the removals, standing beside asylum seekers in front of those who seek to remove them in Dawn Raids. Yes, it may be breaking the law, but in my faith tradition, as colleagues in South Africa decades ago said, ‘defying an unjust and evil law is no crime – it’s a human obligation.’

There is work to be done, friends. We must overturn this evil. But it will not be defeated if we underestimate it. Let's go to it. Let's say it loud and clear ‘Refugees are welcome here.’

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