Home Secretary Amber Rudd tries to defuse Windrush Scandal in Commons
The Home Secretary Amber Rudd – under attack from Brexiteers within her own party who see a chance to bring down a ‘Remainer’ and from pretty much everybody else for her department’s shameful treatment of British citizens from the Caribbean – tried to quell the public outrage over the treatment of the Windrush Generation. She said she was launching a compensation scheme and a simpler route to UK citizenship especially designed for them.
Ms Rudd said she was setting up a new scheme, run by an independent person, to put right any loss people have suffered. Further details of the scheme would be published later, she said. “The State has let these people down, travel documents denied, exclusions from returning to the UK, benefits cut, even threats of removal,” Ms Rudd admitted.
In her statement to Parliament Ms Rudd also said the citizenship offer would apply not just to the families of Caribbean migrants who came to the UK between 1948 and 1973 but anyone from other Commonwealth nations who settled in the UK over the same period. She apologised again for changes to immigration rules – the so-called “hostile environment” policy – which, she said, had had a “unintended and devastating” impact on the Windrush generation.
The public expect immigration rules to be enforced, she said, but it was never the intention for the crackdown on illegal immigration to affect those who were “British in all but their legal status”.
“This should never have happened. We need to show a human face to how we work and exercise greater judgement where it is justified,” she said. “In effect this means anyone from the Windrush generation who now wants to become a British citizen will be able to do so,” she said. “I will put this right and where people have suffered loss, they will be compensated.
“None of this can undo the pain already endured, but I hope it demonstrates the government’s commitment to put these wrongs right going forward,” said the Home Secretary.
Since last week when a special Home Office unit was set up, she said, nine residency cases had been settled with appointments made with a further 84 individuals. An estimated 50,000 or so, out of some 500,000 people, are thought to be potentially affected while the Home Office keeps revising (upwards) the number of people it has improperly treated and possibly even deported. Ms Rudd promised British citizenship to the children of Windrush generation migrants who do not currently hold such status and said she would waive the usual costly fees.
In the Commons she said: “I want to enable the Windrush generation to acquire the status that they deserve, British citizenship, quickly, at no cost and with proactive assistance through the process.”
But many MPs said this was too late and too little. They even warned that there were further such scandals looming for families who came here from other parts of the former British empire. They too automatically received the right to remain in the UK under legislation passed in 1971 – but that is now being questioned.
Former Labour Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, now chair of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, told of a person who called the Windrush hotline hurriedly set up by the Home Office last week who was turned away because his family came to this country from Kenya.
Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy, who has been a vocal campaigner for the rights of Windrush migrants and their families, said similar problems are being faced by British subjects in this country who came here from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria. He asked Ms Rudd: “Will she look particularly at all of those Commonwealth people?”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott pinned the blame for the current injustices on the 2014 Immigration Act introduced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in David Cameron’s government. It was that act, she said, which required employers and others to check people’s immigration status before being allowed to offer them accommodation, jobs, services or even health care.
The Home Office had pressed ahead with this, she said, despite clear and express warnings to it about how its “hostile environment” for immigrants would affect people like the Windrush Generation – people who arrived here with their parents between 1948 and 1971 and fully entitled to be in the UK but often without necessary documentation.
“It was foreseeable; it was foreseen,” said Ms Abbott. “People both within her department and in this house tried to draw (then Home Secretary Theresa May’s) attention to it.”
Potentially hundreds, or more, people have been denied healthcare, lost their jobs, been told to pay back benefits or been refused re-entry to the UK after leaving as a direct consequence of the 2014 Act introduced by Mrs May. Ms Rudd told MPs her officials had thus far only checked some 4,200 of about 8,000 records of deportations dating back to 2002 to check that none of them were Windrush citizens.