Ministers have moved swiftly to try to protect Theresa May after the resignation of Amber Rudd, insisting the home secretary only stood down because she inadvertently misled MPs, not because of the wider Windrush migration scandal.
With the prime minister set to announce a replacement for Rudd later on Monday, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, rejected the idea that May was facing pressure over her own position.
“This is about sorting out a problem,” he told Sky News. “The prime minister has apologised to these people, and we’re going to get on with the job of fixing it.”
The home secretary announced her resignation on Sunday after a series of revelations in the Guardian about problems faced by Windrush-generation residents culminated in a leak on Friday that appeared to show she was aware of targets for removing people who were in the country illegally.
What is the Windrush deportation crisis?
Who are the Windrush generation?
They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.
What is happening to them?
An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they never formalised their residency status and do not have the required documentation to prove it.
Why is this happening now?
It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?
Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.
What is the government doing to resolve the problem?
On Monday, the home secretary Amber Rudd announced the creation of a new Home Office team dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally.
The pressure increased on Sunday afternoon as the Guardian revealed that in a leaked 2017 letter to May, Rudd had told the prime minister of her intention to increase deportations by 10% – seemingly at odds with her recent denials that she was aware of deportation targets.
Rudd was facing a bruising appearance in the House of Commons on Monday, having to explain again why she told the home affairs select committee last week that she did not know of any deportation targets.
Grayling denied that May would herself have known about the targets when she was home secretary for six years.
“You’re talking about operational targets, on the ground, in individual teams,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Ministers don’t see what’s happening in every corner of their department all the time.”
Grayling dismissed Labour’s demand that the prime minister should appear before MPs herself on Monday to explain events: “She’s going to be back in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The opposition will have the opportunity to question her then.”
What are enforced departures?
There are three layers of state-enforced or enforceable departures of immigrants from the UK: deportations, administrative removals and voluntary departures.
Deportations apply to people and their children whose removal is deemed ‘conducive to the public good’ by the home secretary. They can also be recommended by a court.
Administrative removals refer to cases involving the enforced removal of non-citizens who have either entered the country illegally, outstayed a visa, or violated the conditions of their leave to remain.
Voluntary departures are people against whom enforced removal has been initiated; the term ‘voluntary’ simply describes how they leave. There are three sub-categories:
a) Those who depart via assisted voluntary return schemes.
b) Those who make their own travel arrangements and tell the authorities.
c) Those who leave without notifying the government.
Grayling said Rudd had spoken “in good faith” and had stepped down because “she had inadvertently misled parliament, that she should have known a bit more about the issue of targets”.
He told Sky: “It doesn’t often happen in politics, and people criticise when it doesn’t happen. What we’ve got here is a former home secretary who acted on principle.”
Grayling insisted Rudd’s departure had nothing to do with the wider issue of members of the Windrush generation of arrivals from the Caribbean being wrongly targeted by immigration authorities, or with the hostile environment immigration policy initiated by May when she was home secretary.
“The Windrush issue is something we all regret,” he said. “It’s a mistake, the government’s apologised, the prime minister has apologised, the former home secretary apologised for it. That isn’t the issue that led to her resignation. The issue is about her inadvertently misleading the house in good faith.”
Asked on Today who was to blame for Windrush, Grayling said it had been “a circumstance of people who didn’t have the requisite records, who had every right to be here, and the system was not simply geared up to deal with that rather unusual circumstance”.
The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, disputed this, and said May also should come to the Commons to explain herself to MPs.
“Fundamentally, the reason [Rudd] had to resign was because of the Windrush fiasco,” Abbott told the Today programme. “Somebody had to take responsibility. It happened on her watch, therefore I think it’s right she has resigned.”
On May addressing MPs, Abbott said: “In the first instance we’d like to know if she herself knew about the targets and would therefore be in a position to say whether Amber Rudd misled the house.
“More fundamentally, we want to talk to her about the aspects of the so-called hostile environment, which she was responsible for and led to the Windrush fiasco.”
In her resignation letter to the prime minister, published hours after the latest leak, Rudd said she had “become aware of information provided to my office which makes mention of targets. I should have been aware of this, and I take full responsibility that I was not.”
May replied that she believed Rudd had given her evidence “in good faith”, but she could “understand why, now you have had a chance to review the advice that you have received on this issue, you have made the decision you have made, and taken responsibility for inadvertently misleading the home affairs select committee”.
May said Rudd had led her department with “great integrity, compassion and selflessness – notwithstanding the personal and political challenges you have faced during this period”.
Potential candidates to replace Rudd include the communities minister, Sajid Javid, who spoke out strongly over Windrush in an interview at the weekend; and the Cabinet Office minister, David Lidington, who has become a trusted ally since taking over from Damian Green.
The process that led to Rudd’s departure began on Wednesday when the Labour MP Yvette Cooper challenged her repeatedly at the home affairs select committee about removals targets, prompting Rudd to insist “that’s not how we operate”.
Former ministerial colleagues paid tribute to Rudd and expressed hope she would return.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said Rudd would “be missed until she is back, which she will be”.
Devastating news for all of us lucky enough to serve with @AmberRuddHR. In cabinet she was always a true statesman who spoke her mind publicly and privately irrespective of the politics. She will be missed until she is back which she will be!
April 30, 2018