A scathing report into Priti Patel’s Home Office has found the department has “no idea” of the impact of its immigration policies, which appear to be formulated on the basis of “anecdote, assumption and prejudice”.
The cross-party House of Commons Home Affairs Committee found that the Home Office showed “far too little concern” over the damage caused by its failures to both the illegal and legal migrant populations in the UK.
And chair Meg Hillier said it had shown “little intent to change” after the Windrush scandal, when long-standing UK residents were returned to the Caribbean despite being in Britain legally, and said the department had inspired no confidence that there was not another such debacle “right around the corner”.
Failure to gather reliable information means that the Home Office does not know the number of illegal migrants in the UK and cannot say whether its own “hostile environment” policies deter illegal migration or not, said the report. Its last attempt to estimate the illegal population was as long ago as 2005.
And it said the department did not know what was achieved by the £400 million spent each year by its Immigration Enforcement Directorate.
A source close to Ms Patel said she agreed with the criticisms, but insisted they related to “historical issues” in the department.
The Home Office source said: “The Home Secretary agrees with the assessment made by the public accounts committee of historical issues at the Home Office.
"She has spoken at great length how the department puts process before people and is why she has committed to implementing the findings of the Wendy Williams Review into Windrush.”
The report said that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of immigration detainees were released without being returned as planned to their country of origin in 2019 - up from 58 per cent the year before. But it found that the Home Office did not know why the figure was so high.
A failure to put post-Brexit arrangements in place means that at the end of the transition period on 31 December, there is “a real risk that EU exit will actually make it more difficult to remove foreign national offenders and those who try to enter the country illegally”, the committee found.
The committee said that lack of an evidence base for its policies and a “significant lack of diversity” at senior levels had created organisational “blind spots” within the Home Office, and identified the Windrush scandal as a damning indictment of the damage such a culture creates.
Just one member of the Home Office’s executive committee comes from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, and the department has “done little to dispel accusations that its decisions are based on a lack of curiosity, preconceptions and even prejudice”, said the committee.
“The department acknowledges how close it came to being declared institutionally racist in the Windrush ‘lessons learned’ review and that it has to change its culture,” said the report.
“It recognises the value of greater diversity for enabling better decision-making, leadership and governance, though only one member of the Department’s current executive committee comes from a BAME background.”
Ms Hillier said: “The Home Office has frighteningly little grasp of the impact of its activities in managing immigration. It shows no inclination to learn from its numerous mistakes across a swathe of immigration activities – even when it fully accepts that it has made serious errors.
“It accepts the wreckage that its ignorance and the culture it has fostered caused in the Windrush scandal - but the evidence we saw shows too little intent to change, and inspires no confidence that the next such scandal isn’t right around the corner.
“Fifteen years after the then Home Secretary declared the UK’s immigration system “not fit for purpose” it is time for transformation of the Immigration Enforcement into a data-led organisation. Within six months of this report we expect a detailed plan, with set priorities and deadlines, for how the Home Office is going to make this transformation.”