London (AFP) – Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May faced the headache of another cabinet reshuffle on Monday after interior minister Amber Rudd quit having “inadvertently misled” lawmakers about deportation targets for illegal immigrants.
Rudd resigned as home secretary in a blow to the government as it faces outrage over wrongful moves to deport elderly, legal but undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean.
Rudd, who had faced growing pressure over the so-called Windrush scandal, told lawmakers last week that there were no targets for the removal of people deemed to be in the country illegally.
But she felt “with great regret” that it was “necessary” to tender her resignation after the emergence of documents, addressed to her office, showing those goals were in place.
“I should have been aware of this, and I take full responsibility for the fact that I was not,” she said in her resignation letter to May, conceding that she “inadvertently misled the Home Affairs Select Committee”, the panel of MPs scrutinising the work of her ministry.
In reply, May said she was “very sorry” to receive her resignation, but “understood” her reasons for stepping down.
Rudd’s dramatic exit comes as a severe setback for May, who publicly declared her “full confidence” in Rudd as recently as Friday and faces potentially bruising local authority elections across metropolitan England on Thursday.
– Brexit moderate gone –
Rudd was the fifth person to quit the Cabinet since the June 2017 snap general election, called by May but which cost her centre-right Conservative Party its majority in parliament.
Besides May, Rudd was the only other woman in the four top jobs in government — Downing Street, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Home Office.
Rudd, who had run the Home Office since 2016, was also seen as a moderate on the European Union and a balancing force in a Cabinet containing several big-name pro-Brexit figures.
Those tipped to replace her include Communities Secretary Sajid Javid; reformist Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a pro-Brexit figurehead; and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who reportedly refused to budge during the last reshuffle.
Immigration control remains a hot topic in Britain and was a factor in the 2016 vote to leave the EU.
A government clampdown on illegal immigration has begun to identify those without papers, scooping up many elderly people from the Windrush generation – named the ship that brought the first group of migrants from the West Indies in 1948.
Invited to Britain after World War II, they were given a legal right to remain by a 1971 law.
However, many never formalised their status, often because they were children who came over on their parents’ passports and then never applied for their own.
Outrage over the plight of Windrush migrants — some of whom lost jobs and fell into debt as they struggled to prove their status — led to a personal apology from May to Caribbean leaders earlier this month.
In her resignation letter, Rudd admitted that sometimes people with a legal right to be in Britain had not been treated “fairly and humanely”.
– ‘Government decomposing’ –
Gove and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who were at the forefront of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, praised Rudd following her resignation.
Johnson said he was “really sad” to lose her from the Cabinet.
“A fine colleague who did a great job during last year’s terrorist attacks and cares deeply about the people she serves,” he tweeted.
One of the more heartfelt reactions came from George Osborne, the finance minister under May’s 2010-2016 predecessor David Cameron.
He wrote: “The government just got a bit less human.”
The main opposition Labour Party accused Rudd of being a “human shield” for May, who was home secretary under Cameron.
“This was inevitable. The only surprise is that it took so long,” said Labour home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott.
The party’s finance spokesman John McDonnell said: “You can smell the undoubted odour of a government decomposing.”