Seventy years after immigrants from the Caribbean were asked to come to Britain to help rebuild its infrastructure after World War Two, the “Windrush” scandal over their residency rights has led to the resignation of a senior minister and risks destabilizing the government at a critical time.
British newspapers on April 30, 2018, react to Amber Rudd’s resignation as home secretary. /CGTN Compilation Image
Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned late on Sunday night, two days after Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “full confidence” in her, having “inadvertently misled” MPs over targets for the removal of illegal immigrants. Rudd, who was replaced by Communities, Local Government and Housing Secretary Sajid Javid, is the fourth minister in just six months to leave a cabinet that is deeply divided between pro- and anti-Brexit voices.
Who are the Windrush generation? Immigrants invited to the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971 to address labor shortages following World War Two.
What’s the scandal about? The half million people who came to the UK were given indefinite leave to remain, but some have recently been threatened with deportation and denied access to benefits despite living, working and paying taxes in Britain for decades.
Why did it happen? They are victims of a change in immigration policy in 2012. The switch required people to have documentation to access basic government provisions. Many of the Windrush generation arrived on their parents’ passports and never applied for new travel documents.
Rudd’s departure, which follows weeks of indignation over the treatment of the Windrush generation, is unlikely to be the end of a story that has already had a far-reaching impact on the government.
The top jobs in the British cabinet are divided on Brexit terms – those who strongly support leaving the EU and those who want to retain as close a relationship as possible. Rudd was one of the strongest pro-EU voices at the top of government, and her exit could tilt the balance of May’s senior team in favor of a harder Brexit.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the closing press conference of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, April 20, 2018. /VCG Photo
The appointment of Javid retains balance in the cabinet, given he backed staying in the European Union, though since the Brexit vote he has not supported the softer exit options strongly advocated by Rudd.
The departure comes at a particularly tricky time for May, with her “war cabinet” set to meet in the coming days to try to reach a compromise over Britain’s customs relationship with the EU. Ministers are split on the issue, with pro-Brexiteers fiercely opposed to any customs arrangement which would hinder free trade deals with other countries.
Read more: Rudd resigns in immigration scandal
Rudd’s exit also means yet another powerful pro-European voice on parliament’s backbenches. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told the BBC on Sunday that the group will be “a source of considerable headache to Theresa May.”
Pressure on May
Rudd has resigned, but opposition parties claim that her predecessor also bears responsibility for the scandal. Theresa May served as home secretary between 2010 and 2016 and appointed Rudd on becoming prime minister. Rudd was a close ally of May and also a focus of criticism over the Windrush scandal – opposition parties described her as May’s “human shield.”
Tom Watson, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, accuses Theresa May of responsibility for the Windrush scandal. /Twitter Screenshot
Attention is now turning to the immigration policies May put in place as home secretary, with the opposition Labour Party calling on her to explain her directive to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. The opposition claims the instruction created a climate which allowed the Windrush scandal to take place.
The Windrush scandal has led to question marks over how immigration policy will work after Brexit, with little detail yet outlined, as well as the fairness of existing rules.
There has also been a renewed call for identification cards to be introduced in Britain as a means of ensuring no one is left without documentation. ID cards are commonplace in many countries but have sparked controversy when floated in the UK in the past, most recently under Tony Blair’s premiership.
The government has now apologized to victims of the Windrush scandal and promised both citizenship and compensation to those affected, including to people who have lost their jobs, been threatened with deportation and denied benefits because of errors made by officials.
The scandal has played out ahead of local elections on May 3 which are expected to add to pressure on May.
Polling had already suggested her Conservative Party faces extensive losses, and the Windrush scandal together with Rudd’s resignation will not have helped. May apologized to the black community on Thursday in a letter to The Voice, Britain’s national Afro-Caribbean newspaper.
An election wipeout could lead to renewed calls for fresh leadership, with one leading contender – Rudd – now out of the picture for the short term.