The UK’s hostile environment: Deputising immigration control

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In 2012, Home Secretary Theresa May told a newspaper that she wanted to create a ‘really hostile environment’ for irregular migrants in the UK. Although the phrase has since mutated to refer to generalised state-led marginalisation of immigrants, this article argues that the hostile environment is a specific policy approach, and one with profound significance for the UK’s border practices. We trace the ‘hostile environment’ phrase, exposing its origins in other policy realms, charting its evolution into immigration, identifying the key components and critically reviewing the corresponding legislation. The article analyses the impact and consequences of the hostile environment, appraising the costs to public health and safety, the public purse, individual vulnerability and marginalisation, and wider social relations. We conclude by identifying the fundamental flaws of the policy approach, arguing that they led to the 2018 Windrush scandal and risk creating similar problems for European Economic Area nationals after Brexit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)026101832098065
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jan 2021


  • Brexit
  • Windrush scandal
  • border
  • deportation
  • migration


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