London (AFP) – Britain’s new interior minister pledged Monday to create a “fair and humane immigration” system hours after being appointed as he tried to move beyond a scandal over moves to deport elderly legal immigrants that has rocked the government.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier appointed Sajid Javid to replace Amber Rudd, who quit the key ministerial post of home secretary late Sunday after misleading lawmakers over deportation targets for illegal immigrants.
A rapid riser in the government, Javid’s first task was to answer an urgent question in parliament amid continued fallout from the so-called Windrush scandal — erroneous moves to deport legal but undocumented elderly immigrants from the Caribbean.
The scandal has prompted a wider debate about the government’s harsh methods against illegal immigration.
“I want to start by making a pledge to the Windrush generation,” he told lawmakers. “I will do whatever it takes to put it right.”
While interior minister between 2010 and 2016 May pioneered controversial policies intended to create a “hostile environment” for people in Britain illegally.
They are now under fire for unfairly ensnaring the Windrush generation — with fears EU citizens could be similarly targeted post-Brexit.
A second generation immigrant to Britain, Javid signaled he would be adopting a new tone in the role.
“I don’t like the term hostile and I won’t be using it,” he vowed.
“It’s a phrase that’s unhelpful and doesn’t represent our values as a country. It’s about a compliant environment”.
– Son of a bus driver –
Rudd was forced from office after telling lawmakers last week that there were no targets for the removal of people deemed to be in the country illegally.
She felt it “necessary” to tender her resignation after the emergence of documents 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” MPs.
Replacement Javid is the son of a Pakistani bus driver who had arrived in Britain in 1961 with one pound in his pocket.
The 48-year-old Javid was a senior investment banker at Deutsche Bank before being elected to parliament in 2010.
He joined the cabinet in 2014 as culture secretary before switching to business secretary in 2015 and communities secretary the following year.
He backed the losing Remain campaign in Britain’s 2016 referendum on its European Union membership, but his pro-EU position was lukewarm.
Explaining the thinking behind Javid’s appointment, May’s spokesman said he was “one of the most experienced ministers” in Cabinet who had “proved his drive, his ambition and his determination to get to grips with difficult subjects”.
Rudd, who was only appointed to the Home Office in 2016, was seen as a moderate on the EU and a balancing force in a cabinet containing several heavyweight pro-Brexit figures.
Her departure is unfortunate timing for May, whose centre-right Conservative Party faces potentially bruising local authority elections across England on Thursday.
Rudd was the fifth person to quit the cabinet since the June 2017 snap general election, called by May but which cost the Conservatives their majority in parliament.
James Brokenshire, who stepped down as Northern Ireland secretary in January to undergo lung operation, returned to cabinet to replace Javid in the housing, communities and local government brief.
– Clampdown –
Immigration control remains a hot topic in Britain and was a factor in the June 2016 vote to leave the EU.
May on Monday defended targets for the removal of illegal immigrants.
“If you talk to members of the public they want to ensure that we are dealing with people who are here illegally,” she said.
Her clampdown on illegal immigration, that began as a bid to identify those without papers, scooped up many elderly people from the Windrush generation — named after the ship that brought the first group of migrants from the West Indies in 1948.
Invited to Britain to help it rebuild 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.
Some have lost jobs and fallen into debt as they struggled to prove their status.