Theresa May repeatedly dodged questions today about whether she should resign over the government’s handling of the Windrush scandal.
The Prime Minister has been dragged into the fiasco following the shock resignation of Amber Rudd, who has been replaced as Home Secretary by Sajid Javid.
Ms Rudd became the fifth departure from the Cabinet since last year’s snap general election, after admitting she had ‘inadvertently’ misled MPs over the existence of targets for removing illegal immigrants amid the growing Windrush ‘scandal’.
Facing MPs, Mr Javid distanced himself from the ‘hostile environment’ policy begun by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, saying the phrase ‘does not represent our values as a country’.
Mr Javid says the first thing he will do is look ‘carefully’ at the Government’s immigration policy to ensure people are treated with respect.
‘The most urgent task I have is to help those British citizens that came from the Caribbean, the so-called Windrush generation,’ he said. ‘And make sure that they are treated with the decency and the fairness that they deserve.’
May under fire
Critics have rounded on the Prime Minister, who was Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016, demanding she answer questions in the Commons about her knowledge of migrant removal targets.
The PM admitted today that she knew about targets for deporting illegal immigrants, raising questions over why she did not intervene when Ms Rudd denied the existence of targets to MPs.
If Amber Rudd has gone because of a memo to @theresa_may telling her about higher targets for enforced removals, then surely the Prime Minister also knew and should not have allowed parliament to be misled all last week. pic.twitter.com/LrUR6uHsCD
— Barry Gardiner (@BarryGardiner) April 29, 2018
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Brooklands Primary School in Greater Manchester, Mrs May was asked three times if the Windrush scandal was a resignation matter for her or if she should take responsibility for it.
Pointedly refusing to be drawn on the topic of her own culpability, the PM instead repeated that the Windrush generation have the right to stay in Britain.
‘The Windrush generation are British, they are here, they are part of us and what we have done is, in recognising the concern that has been raised, put a team in place that will be working with people to ensure that they get the documents that are necessary.’ she said.
Jeremy Corbyn pointed the finger of blame towards Mrs May, saying: ‘Amber Rudd has been a human shield for Theresa May – and now she has gone.’
Earlier today shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the BBC: ‘We want to talk to her about the aspects of the so-called hostile environment which she [May] was responsible for and led to the Windrush fiasco.
‘All roads lead back to Theresa May and her tenure as Home Secretary.’
Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted that the PM had ‘lost her human shield and now looks very exposed herself’.
I see Amber Rudd is carrying the can for the person originally responsible for this scandal – Theresa May.
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) April 29, 2018
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said Ms Rudd was ‘carrying the can’ for the Prime Minister as the person ‘originally responsible for the scandal’.
Ministers have rallied around their embattled party leader, with Chris Grayling saying: ‘This is about sorting out a problem,’ he said, adding the Prime Minister ‘has not been home secretary for an extended period’ and wouldn’t necessarily be across department policy.
Ms Rudd’s resignation letter – in which she took ‘full responsibility’ for not being aware of the existence of targets – follows the resignations of former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, Priti Patel as international development secretary, Damian Green as first minister and James Brokenshire, who left his role as Northern Ireland secretary on health grounds.
Sajid Javid is the son of a Pakistani bus driver and will be seen as a uniting figure.
After his appointment was made public, Mr Javid said he would be looking ‘carefully’ at the Government’s immigration policy to ensure people are treated with respect.
He said: ‘My first priority is to make sure the Home Office always does all it can to keep the British people safe.
He added: “We are going to have a strategy in place that does something the previous Home Secretary set out last week when she made a statement to Parliament about making sure we have an immigration policy that is fair, it treats people with respect and with decency.
In a newspaper interview this weekend, Mr Javid said of the Windrush fiasco: “It could have been me, my mum or my dad.”
“I was really concerned when I first started hearing and reading about some of the issues. It immediately impacted me. I’m a second-generation migrant. My parents came to this country … just like the Windrush generation.”
Mr Javid backed remaining in the EU and would balance the scales with Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, who helped lead the Leave campaign.
The pressure had been building on former banker Ms Rudd since the emergence of the ‘appalling’ treatment of Caribbean immigrants to the UK between the 1940s and 1970s – the so-called Windrush generation.
Concerns had been raised about the immigration status of the Windrush generation and there had been stories of people being forced to prove their near-continuous presence in the country in order to prove they were here legally.
Ms Rudd referred to the Windrush ‘scandal’ in her two-page resignation letter, admitting that people with a right to live in the UK had not always been treated ‘fairly and and humanely’.
Riding the storm
Ms Rudd had appeared to be prepared to ride out the storm announcing her intention to come to the Commons on Monday to answer MPs’ ‘legitimate questions’ about the removals targets.
She had previously apologised in the House for the ‘appalling’ treatment of the Windrush veterans, announcing a taskforce to resolve their immigration status as quickly as possible.
However, she was criticised for saying the Home Office was ‘too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual’, prompting accusations that she was trying to put the blame on civil servants.
Pressures and leaks
Ms Rudd’s latest difficulties began on Wednesday when she told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that the Home Office did not have targets for removals.
The following day, however, she returned to the House to admit that Immigration Enforcement managers did use ‘local targets’ but she said they were ‘not published targets against which performance was assessed’.
The pressure then ratcheted up on Friday with the leak of a Home Office memo, which referred to a target of 2,800 enforced returns for 2017-18, and the progress towards a 10% increase in enforced returns ‘which we promised the Home Secretary earlier this year’.
In a series of late night tweets, Ms Rudd said she had not seen the memo – even though it was copied to her office – but admitted that she should have been aware of the targets.
Her position was further weakened over the weekend, however, when former immigration minister Brandon Lewis – now the Conservative Party chairman – disclosed they had held weekly meetings to discuss her plans to increase the numbers of removals, although he insisted they did not discuss detailed targets or numbers.
Ms Rudd’s decision to stand down will come as a major blow to Mrs May who publicly declared her ‘full confidence’ in her as recently as Friday.
It will also upset the delicate balance within the Cabinet between Leavers and Remainers ahead of a crucial meeting of the Brexit ‘war cabinet’ on Wednesday to discuss Britain’s future customs relationship with the EU.