Rudd has gone but hostile environment policy set to stay

Amber Rudd may have been forced to resign as home secretary but the policies behind the Windrush scandal remain.

The plight of some from the Windrush generation was highlighted by the Guardian on an almost weekly basis for six months before ministers took notice. Stories of healthcare being denied, and jobs and homes being lost were not given attention at the senior levels of government until two weeks ago.

Even when the scandal broke in earnest, Rudd made sure to offset concern for those affected with a determined defence of the government’s clampdown on people in the UK illegally, which the Windrush generation were not.

“Removing illegal migrants is what governments should be doing in order to protect the taxpayer and in order to make sure that no abuse takes place in the UK,” Rudd said in what turned out to be her last appearance before the House of Commons as home secretary.

Q&A

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.


Photograph: Douglas Miller/Hulton Archive
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The policies behind the government’s tough line on illegal immigration remain in place, in particular, the measures initiated by Theresa May’s drive to create a “very hostile environment” for immigrants when she was home secretary.

The basic principle behind the policy forces people to prove their right to reside in the UK at every turn, including renting a home, accessing healthcare or applying for a driving licence. It meant public and private sector workers became enforcers of immigration control.

The Windrush generation were caught up in this policy, with devastating consequences, as the Guardian’s reporting has shown.

May’s policies stemmed from one of her first moves as home secretary: in 2010, along with the then prime minister, David Cameron, she set a target of reducing net migration to below 100,000. It was a political goal, not written into law, but May has obstinately stuck to it, despite strong criticism of both its feasibility and its impact.

As well as leading to the formation of the hostile environment policy, that headline target trickled down to the operational level in immigration enforcement, where targets were set to increase the number of enforced removals each year.

Lucy Moreton, the head of the immigration union, told MPs that the regional targets “translate down” from the net migration target.

Rudd was either unaware of the existence of targets within her department or she deliberately misled MPs. Documents leaked to the Guardian show there was communication about specific targets between Rudd and officials, and Rudd and the prime minister.

Critics of the use of targets have argued that, like the measures in the hostile environment policies which were forged into law in the immigration acts of 2014 and 2016, they encourage behaviour or decisions that lead to innocent people, such as those from the Windrush generation, being caught in the crossfire.

With Rudd gone, there are calls for May to appear before parliament and account for the policies and target culture used under her watch, both as home secretary and prime minister.

She has clear support within her own party to keep the policies in place despite their impact.

On Monday morning, cabinet members were defending the tough stance the government has taken on illegal immigration. Tory backbenchers had voiced this sentiment in their contributions to the debate in the House of Commons last week.

Furthermore, public support for a tough line on illegal immigration appears to remain in place. A YouGov poll conducted last Tuesday and Wednesday found overwhelming support for the hostile environment policy and showed that most people surveyed still believed immigration levels were too high.

It seems likely, then, that the new home secretary, Sajid Javid, will continue to maintain the line that the treatment of the Windrush generation was a disgrace but an anomaly, and the crackdown on illegal immigration must continue.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/rss