Minister accused of misleading MPs in deportations row

Amelia Hill
Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister. Photograph: Dinendra Haria/Rex/Shutterstock

Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, has been accused for a third time of incompetence and misleading parliament over the Home Office’s use of counter-terrorism powers to deport highly skilled migrants who have made legitimate amendments to their tax records.

In a heated debate at Westminster Hall last week, MPs challenged Nokes about the usage of paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules. She responded that no applications to overturn decisions had been successful at judicial review and only 38 appeals had been allowed, “mostly on human rights grounds”. Nokes also said all current cases were on hold.

However, the Guardian revealed last week that only a small number of current cases were on hold and large numbers of people were still fighting against deportation. As for appeals, immigration law states they can be made only on human rights grounds.

In addition, politicians and lawyers have rejected Nokes’ claim that no challenges have been successful at judicial review, pointing to two cases in the past few weeks alone.

“Nokes’ claim [about] no cases being successful is obviously wrong,” said Syed Naqvi, the head of the immigration department at ITN solicitors. “Some cases are being won outright, but what is happening more widely is that the secretary of state settles out of court just before the final hearing.

“These applicants have clearly been successful in achieving their aim of getting the Home Office to reconsider their earlier refusal.”

Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, who has constituents fighting against removal under 322(5) and called the Westminster Hall debate, raised the issue in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

“It is clear that the minister for immigration has misled the house. Regardless of whether this is deliberate or through incompetence, she must set the record straight, and do so immediately. I raised this as a point of order after prime minister’s questions today,” she said.

Steve Reed, the Labour MP for Croydon North and the shadow minister for civil society, who also has constituents fighting against 322(5), said: “Either she [Nokes] doesn’t know what her department is doing in her name or she is attempting to mislead MPs. Whichever of those is true, it calls into question her ability to do the job she holds.”

John Woodcock, a member of the home affairs select committee and the independent MP for Barrow-in-Furness, said he would submit written questions in parliament demanding full disclosure on the issue.

“It would be staggering if a Home Office minister has once again given an inaccurate picture to parliament on a crucial matter concerning the Windrush fiasco,” he said.

Parminder Saini, a barrister who has worked on five judicial reviews in the past 18 months, all of which the Home Office settled out of court, said the government was fighting a tactical battle.

“The significance of this tactic … is that any unlawfulness that is evident in an impugned decision would not be reported in a published court judgment,” he said. “In this way, the public often does not hear about these cases.”

At Westminster Hall, Nokes was told she either had no grip on her department or was recklessly incompetent for allowing such use of counter-terrorism powers.

In May, she was accused of “shambolic incompetence” after the Guardian revealed letters she had written to constituency MPs undermined her evidence to the home affairs committee that she had only recently become aware of the 322(5) scandal.