Windrush scandal forces resignation of UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd

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Amber Rudd
Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Photo courtesy of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, CC2.0

Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned late Sunday night as pressure following the Windrsush scandal continues to grow, and more evidence that she had inadvertently misled Parliament appeared over the weekend.

What is the Windrush Scandal?

Amber Rudd’s possible resignation has been a regular topic for speculation in British political discussion ever since the Windrush scandal emerged two weeks ago.

Following the Second World War, the United Kingdom found itself desperately short of the manpower it needed to rebuild. Immigration for British subjects from around the Empire was liberalized, and one of the first and most famous groups arrived on the HMT Empire Windrush. The ship docked in London in 1948 and bringing thousands of Jamaicans to Britain, and lending its name to what is now termed the “Windrush Generation.”

Go home van
Go Home van, Photo Ian Burt (CC2.0)

As immigration became an increasingly sensitive subject in British politics, successive governments began introducing tighter rules to try and catch undocumented people residing in the UK. The Conservative Party 2010 election manifesto promised to create a “hostile environment” which would make remaining in the UK as difficult as possible for those without leave to remain, and was implemented by the current Prime Minister Theresa May when she became Home Secretary after the election. Most emblematic of this policy were the “Go Home” vans that prowled Britain’s streets encouraging illegals to “self-deport” or face arrest.

It now transpires that many immigrants from the Windrush immigration, who the political classes unquestionably agree have the right to remain in the UK, never received formal paperwork clarifying their status. Under May, the Home Office was not willing to make exceptions, however, and many Windrush migrants have been faced with loss of access to public services, detention, and deportation. Many of these immigrants arrived in the UK as children and have lived in the country legally for decades.

Now Prime Minister, May did her best to keep the issue from emerging into the national discussion. This backfired spectacularly, however, when it became the main issue of the Commonwealth Summit in mid-April. With the scandal now fully exposed, the British people reacted in horror, and pressure grew for someone to take responsibility and resign.

Amber Rudd carries the can

Amber Rudd was appointed as the new Home Secretary when May assumed the top office following the 2016 Brexit Referendum. With May riding high in the polls and being dubbed the new “Iron Lady,” it is understandable that Rudd was reluctant to overhaul policies implemented by her powerful boss. The “hostile environment” continued nearly unchanged under Rudd, even after May’s authority was weakened following the disastrous 2017 elections.

This may have been Rudd’s undoing. The Home Office is a notoriously unwieldy department – Labour Home Secretary John Reid even famously referred to it as “not fit for purpose.” Every Home Secretary struggles to control the vast department, but with Rudd simply continuing with the status quo, important policies went unquestioned for years.

When Parliament started asking tough questions about the Windrush scandal in recent weeks, Amber Rudd was forced to defend the “hostile environment” policy she did not implement (and many think did not actually support). Floundering for an explanation, she blamed Home Office staff (not ministers) and denied that there were any numerical targets for the numbers of deportations each year.

Blaming Home Office staff was certainly a mistake. Since telling Parliament she was not aware of any targets a series of leaks have emanated from the Home Office (potentially from disgruntled staff) that proved that information on targets had passed across Amber Rudd’s desk.

Sunday evening at 5pm, a letter from Amber Rudd to Theresa May dated January 2017 was published in the Guardian. In the letter Rudd refers to “ambitious but deliverable” deportation targets.

Faced with a scheduled appearance before Parliament this morning, Rudd resigned hours after the Guardian revelation.

Theresa May in the cross-hairs

Although Amber Rudd’s resignation was probably inevitable following the revelations over the weekend, it will be something Prime Minister Theresa May will certainly have resisted.

As one of the four “great offices of state,” the Home Secretary is one of the most powerful offices in the UK political system. Finding a suitable replacement for a cabinet delicately balanced between different Brexit pressure groups will be a challenge for May.

But more challenging for May is the loss of the “human shield” Rudd was providing her. If there are any further revelations in the Windrush scandal (as many commentators expect) there is no one else other than the Prime Minister herself who can be held accountable for them. This leaves an already weakened Prime Minister exposed on a new front – something she can ill afford.

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