In a surprising move by Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream giant took to Twitter yesterday, August 11, to publish a series of tweets directed at UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and her inhumane treatment and discourse around immigration. The company began the thread by directly speaking to Patel, tweeting “Hey @PritiPatel we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture. We pulled together a thread for you.”
The Twitter thread came after Priti has been called out after it was reported that on Saturday, August 8, the Home Office had asked the defence chiefs to aid them in making the crossing routes into the UK via small and often inflatable boats “unviable.”
Following the viral tweet by the ice cream firm, the Home Office source responded in defence of the Home Secretary, saying that: “Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people. If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it.”
Shortly after, jumping on the defence team of Patel, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly tweeted, “Can I have a large scoop of statistically inaccurate virtue signalling with my grossly overpriced ice cream, please?”
Over the past few days, attention to the dangerous illegal boat crossings into the UK has gained attention across social media following an inhumane and rightly voyeuristic reporting by both BBC and Sky reporters as they were filmed on a boat, filming and reporting on an inflatable boat filled with migrants headed toward the UK coastline.
Criticism of the journalists and their journalistic ethos has been heavy, citing that instead of filming these individuals they should have helped them onto their safer boats and out of dangerous waters. In response, Labour MP Zarah Sultana said, “We should ensure people don’t drown crossing the Channel, not film them as if it were some grotesque reality TV show.” While Stephen Farry, the deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance party, said it was not ethical journalism. “It is voyeurism and capitalising on misery. Media should be seeking to hold [the Home Office] to account, and the dark forces fuelling this anti-people agenda.”
On 23 June, 2016, Britain chose to leave the EU. As the news hit Canada, where I was born and raised, I didn’t give it much thought. After all, I had better things to do; I was balancing my summer job in a halfway house for refugees with some volunteering to gain experience before I went back to school to study social work.
However, Brexit meant a lot more to my soon-to-be husband who was sitting in the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. As a British-born citizen, he knew that the country he was returning to would be different than the one he had left. Soon after that, we got engaged and I realised that I actually did have to start thinking—and worrying—about British politics. Brexit was happening and the new points-based immigration system that is now being put into place would have probably stopped me from moving to the UK.
At the time, my immigration visa to the UK was supported by my social work degree, as well as my contracts and payslips for my two jobs working with refugee and low-income youth and mothers, which allowed me to skip the English language testing requirement. I had been accepted into two UK universities and had never gotten into trouble with the law. As my sponsor, my husband had to show his own job contract, payslips and bank statements to prove that he would be able to support me, so I wouldn’t be a drag on the economy.
In February of this year, almost two years after I arrived in the UK, a revised points-based immigration system was unveiled by the newly-elected conservative government. In an effort to attract the “brightest and the best” to the country, potential applicants need to score a total of 70 points, which they can earn through English proficiency, a minimum annual salary of £25,600, PhDs, job offers from British employers, or working in health-based professions.
This new system doesn’t just eliminate people from poorer countries, such as those from Eastern Europe, but it also makes it harder for entrepreneurs—London alone is home to 5,000 active tech startups with a combined valuation of £34 billion. This policy will also restrict people coming to the UK to work as carers or seasonal agricultural workers—two sectors that young British people aren’t exactly raring to join.
The privileges that my husband and I enjoyed as educated, employed and English-speaking individuals made my move to the UK relatively easy. The message was clear: I was a ‘desirable’ immigrant who would benefit the economy and not use up public funds (my residence card literally read ‘work permitted, no public funds’). Months went by, and I realised that my life here wouldn’t be what I had thought it would be.
For one, I couldn’t afford to attend the universities that had accepted me, as I wasn’t allowed to pay home fees. Job searching was also hard because my Canadian qualifications weren’t recognised in the UK. Yet somehow, according to the new system, I am more useful than the Eastern Europeans, Asians, West Indians and other immigrants who have made this country their home.
In a way, I felt transported back to the past. My paternal relatives were refugees from the Ukrainian part of the USSR, ravaged by the Second World War. For years, they lived in a German refugee camp, until the Canadian government sought white settlers, especially those who knew how to farm, to fill the land stolen from the Indigenous tribes. My maternal grandparents left Pakistan, seeking a more economically secure future for their children, their own financial and social security laid to waste by British colonialism.
People like my grandparents literally built Canada, America and the UK. They built the roads and houses, they cleaned the hospitals and schools, they grew the food, they worked in the factories that allowed the economy to thrive. Yet, on both sides of the ocean, their long years of toil are recompensed by meagre pensions and terrible care by overworked and under-payed carers, as ‘unskilled’ and unrecognised as they were.
I fail to see how the new immigration system will benefit the UK, even from the conservative party’s perspective. British university graduates are already working minimum-wage jobs, or those that they are overqualified for, and an influx of graduates from other countries may just make it harder to find a stable career. Last October, farmers reported seeing their seasonal labour force drop by at least 30 per cent over fears of Brexit, leaving tonnes of food left unpicked in the fields.
Care UK has warned that elders across the country will suffer if the number of carers rapidly drop due to immigration laws barring low-skilled workers. Next year, when the new system comes into effect, it will be clear whether the British public has won or lost by choosing ‘people like me’. Am I only worth a few points?