The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s racist tweets remind Brits of when ‘Go Home’ vans drove through London

Mobile billboards carrying a warning of "Go Home or Face Arrest" in London as part of the controversial 2013 Home Office initiative to reduce illegal immigration. (Rick Findler)

LONDON — Britain’s departing Prime Minister Theresa May was among the first world leaders to condemn President Trump’s racist tweets targeting four Democrat minority congresswomen.

While some applauded May’s quick rebuke of Trump’s statements, others this week sought to remind her of a polarizing anti-illegal immigration campaign in which she played a central role as Home Secretary.

In the summer of 2013, what came to be derisively known as “go home vans” drove through the streets of some of London’s most diverse boroughs with the slogan “In the U.K. illegally? Go home or face arrest” emblazoned on the side.

The vans, which were part of the government’s Operation Vaken, also carried the message “106 arrests last week in your area” on huge posters — a claim which was later deemed to be misleading and as a result, the campaign was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.

British lawmakers sparred with May in parliament on Wednesday during a heated exchange in which May and opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn traded accusations of not doing enough to combat racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in their parties.

After May said Corbyn had “dodged his responsibility” to stamp out anti-Semitism in his Labour party, Corbyn called out May for her involvement with a polarizing 2013 campaign anti-illegal immigration campaign and her harsh treatment of the Windrush generation.

“Coming from a prime minister who encouraged the hostile environment, sent go home vans around London and deported British citizens, which she’s now had to compensate them for, I think she might look to her own party,” Corbyn said on Wednesday, in response to May’s criticism over his alleged failure to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism.

Corbyn’s remarks echoed those of some lawmakers this week who accused May of insincerity by speaking out firmly against Trump’s tweets — while glossing over the racial insensitivity of the go home vans.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn got into a heated exchange over race and inclusion in Britain. (Video: AP)

Scottish politician Ian Blackford also targeted May Wednesday, asking that she “call out and condemn the racism of the go home van, that she created in coalition government with the Liberal Democrats."

May defended herself, saying: “I said at the time that was too blunt an instrument.”

British lawmaker David Lammy had earlier blasted May on Twitter on Tuesday writing:

“Theresa May has condemned Trump’s tweets — time that her successors did too — nice to see she has had a change of heart since ‘go home or face arrest’ vans she was responsible for as Home Secretary,” tweeted British politician Rupa Huq on Monday.

Last year, May’s former special adviser Nick Timothy defended her involvement in the campaign, writing in the Telegraph: “In fact, she blocked the proposal but it was revived and approved in a communications plan while she was on holiday.”