Home Office urged to end ‘disturbing pattern’ of bad briefing
Institute for Government says department has to put officials’ accountability at the heart of new review
Sajid Javid in Downing Street Credit: PA
The Home Office must usher in a new era of accountability and transparency for the advice that ministers are given if it is to get to grips with a pattern of flawed briefings given to its most senior political leaders, the Institute for Government has said.
Last month home secretary Sajid Javid announced a review designed to ensure that immigration cases would be handled fairly in future after the embarrassing revelation that some people had been wrongly compelled to provide DNA samples to support visa applications.
Javid told parliament that a taskforce similar to the one set up to deal with victims of the Windrush scandal – which cost predecessor Amber Rudd her job in April – would be set up. A report subsequently found that Rudd had been let down by her senior advisers in relation to her understanding of the existence of deportation targets.
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Benoit Guerin, a senior researcher at the IfG, said the advice given to both Rudd and Javid showed a “disturbing pattern of poorly-briefed Home Office ministers”, which immigration minister Caroline Nokes had recently added to.
“Nokes delivered a much-maligned performance at the Home Affairs Select Committee over employers’ checks on EU nationals’ right to work, which forced the department to issue a clarification,” he said.
Guerin said the review announced by Javid needed to undo the “corrosive effect of poor advice” across the department, and be squarely targeted towards preventing future scandals by improving the briefings given to ministers with accountability and transparency made a central focus.
“In practical terms, this involves clarifying what advice ministers were given ahead of major decisions,” he said.
“The Home Office review needs to hammer home the need to publish information on the risks, and strategies for mitigating these risks, associated with the department’s larger projects.”
Guerin said that three years before the Windrush scandal gained national attention, the Home Office had been aware that its immigration policy might impact individuals whose immigration records had been destroyed, but it is not known what advice was given to ministers at the time.
“This cannot happen again – advice should be transparent, and it should be possible to unpick subsequent decisions made by ministers on the basis of such advice,” he said.
“This will encourage the civil service to raise relevant issues with ministers before a decision is made, and ministers to carefully weigh the risks associated with their proposed approach.”
He said requiring officers to publish information on the feasibility and value for money of policies – in the same way accounting officers are required to do for projects – would help to clarify the advice ministers were given before decisions are made, and make parliament’s scrutiny role easier.
Guerin said that improved early-warning systems in the Home Office would also allow ministers to step in and prevent issues from becoming crises.
He said better-informed ministers could have helped to safeguard the Home Office’s reputation by both avoiding a national outcry, in the case of the Windrush scandal, and making better decisions more generally.
“Given the looming registration of 3 million EU citizens after Brexit, the Home Office review needs to ensure that the proposed Independent Monitoring Authority overseeing EU citizens’ rights after Brexit is able to quickly spot instances where specific groups are being harmed,” he said.
“It could also recommend that the authority’s role be extended after Brexit, to prevent the next immigration scandal.
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