May Brown, a Nigerian woman with leukemia, made the news last week when her sister was denied entry to the UK to provide life-saving stem cells. The Home Office said it wasn’t satisfied that the trip was genuine, or that the sister had enough money. This isn’t the first time Brown has been on the wrong side of British immigration; denied asylum in 2013, she attempted suicide. ‘We are sensitive to cases with compassionate circumstances,’ a Home Office spokesperson said last Friday, ‘but all visa applications must be assessed against the immigration rules.’
Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, was notorious for one thing: oil sands. That fact is impossible to get away from – the more so now that it’s notorious for something else: burning to the ground. Over the last few days, the images have been apocalyptic: an enormous wildfire approaching houses, hotels and a hospital; lines of cars driving through smoke, sometimes appearing to drive straight through the flames. The blaze jumped over firebreaks, a highway and a river. It was so large it started to create its own weather system: lightning, but no rain. Last Tuesday, the entire city of almost 90,000 people was evacuated. No one has yet been killed by the fire, though two people died in road accidents during the evacuation.
Dawn Foster reported recently that 196 MPs are now landlords, a rise of a quarter since the last parliament. Nearly 40 per cent of Tory MPs are letting out properties; more than 20 per cent of Labour MPs are. From 1 February they will be obliged to check the immigration status of their tenants, in line with the government’s Right to Rent scheme, which means we won’t have long to wait for the next phony immigration scandal. (Remember when Mark Harper, the minister behind the ‘Go Home’ vans, resigned after being caught employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner in 2014? She was arrested at her daughter’s wedding, taken to Yarl's Wood and two weeks later sent back to Colombia. Harper is now chief whip.)
Last night, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party took power in the Canadian federal election. It was an astonishing victory. In 2011 the Liberals won only 34 seats, their worst ever performance, which left them trailing both the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party (NDP). This year they took 184 (out of 338). It’s the first time since 1925 that a party has gone from third to first place in a single election cycle. And it’s the first time ever that a third-placed party has gone on to form a majority government in the next election. Two months ago, the Liberals trailed both the NDP and the Conservatives in the polls. Last night, they took 8 per cent more of the popular vote than the Conservatives, and 20 per cent more than the NDP.
A year ago yesterday the European Court of Justice passed down the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling. It held that, under the EU’s 1995 Data Protection Directive, members of the public could request that search engines remove ‘information relating to a person from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of that person’s name’ if the information was ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant’. Since then, Google has received about 250,000 requests to remove more than 900,000 links. It has accepted around 40 per cent of them.
The UK has introduced a healthcare surcharge for immigrants from non-EEA areas. Adults have to pay £200 a year for access to the NHS whether or not they make use of it; students have to pay £150. UK citizens who want to bring their partner to the country must apply for a 30-month residency visa: the NHS surcharge on this is £500, almost doubling the previous cost of the visa (£601). Skilled migrants can be stuck with bills of more than £1000. An applicant with a dependent spouse and three children could be charged £5000.
A five-foot, one-thousand-pound unexploded Second World War bomb was found on Monday on a building site near where I live in Bermondsey. Several streets were closed, causing traffic chaos, and 1200 residents were evacuated. None of the police I spoke to knew how long we would have to leave for: we were told to prepare for ‘at least 48 hours’. In the event, I was allowed to return to my flat at 9 p.m., but the police, wanting to speak about evacuation plans for the following morning, when the bomb was scheduled to be moved, hammered on my door three times between midnight and 7 a.m., when I finally gave up on sleeping and left the area.
From the reaction to the Home Office’s decision to grant visas to the family of Andrea Gada, a five-year-old killed by a car in Eastbourne before Christmas, you’d think a corner had been turned on immigration policy. Gada’s Zimbabwean grandparents and aunt were at first denied visas, ostensibly because of fears that they would remain in the UK. Stephen Lloyd, Eastbourne’s MP, said he would personally guarantee the family’s departure from the country and raised the case in the House of Commons. David Cameron wrote to the Home Office. The case was reviewed and the decision upheld. Finally, after a petition with 100,000 signatures asking that the Gadas be allowed to come was delivered to Downing Street, the decision was overturned last week ‘on compassionate grounds’ (and because of some mysterious ‘new information and assurances’ that the family would return home after the funeral). But it was political expediency that won out.
In the Republican Response to the State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Joni Ernst, a newly elected senator from Iowa, referred to legislation that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline as the ‘Keystone jobs bill’. It’s the latest in a long line of Republican rebrandings.
In one of his recently published letters to his wife, Véra, Nabokov gives yet another version of the legendary encounter between Joyce and Proust in 1922. The various accounts of the meeting (many of them collected in Richard Ellmann’s Life of Joyce) disagree on almost everything, though it probably happened at a party given by the writer Sydney Schiff to celebrate the opening of Stravinsky’s Renard in Paris on 18 May. According to one version of the story, Joyce arrived drunk and poorly dressed; Proust, draped in furs, opened the door.