Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has said that officials raised concerns with Theresa May about the potential impact of changes to immigration rules that have left some of the so-called Windrush generation unable to prove their status.
Kerslake, who was head of the civil service from 2012 to 2015 as well as head of then Department for Communities and Local Government for five years to 2015, said civil servants “would have said that there is a risk [that tougher immigration rules will mean] you take action against people who are actually lawfully here because they don’t have the information”.
Government polices, as set out in the 2014 and 2016 immigration acts, intended to create what then home secretary Theresa May called “a hostile environment for illegal migrants” that required people to prove their residence status to be able to access public services. In the House of Commons this week, current home secretary Amber Rudd referred to this as “a compliant environment, to ensure that people who are here legally are looked after but people who are here illegally should not be here”.
Cases have been raised of people who came to the UK legally as children in the 1950s and 1960s – the so-called Windrush children – facing migration issues despite having lived in the UK all their adult lives. This is due to the requirement that people provide greater proof of their right to reside in order to work, rent property or access benefits and some public services. Some have been threatened with deportation, while others have lost out on healthcare, employment and housing.
Keslake told BBC Newsnight: “I think it was not just a question of the home secretary [then Theresa May] being told this was a challenging policy, the prime minister [at the time, David Cameron] was as well, and this was a very contested bit of legislation across government departments.
“Now I can’t say, and shouldn’t say as a former head of civil service, precisely who gave advice to whom, but what I can tell you is it was highly contested.”
He also called for an inquiry into how the Home Office took the decision to destroy thousands of documents relating to the Windrush generation, which has contributed to problems some immigrants have faced in being unable to prove their status.
The Guardian revealed this week that landing card slips recording the arrival dates of immigrants from the post war generation were destroyed in an office move despite managers being warned that destroying the cards could make life harder for older Caribbean-born residents struggling to prove their right to live in the UK.
A person’s arrival date is crucial to a citizenship application, because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain.
But the department said it would be “misleading and inaccurate” to suggest the landing slips would be used in immigration cases.
A spokesperson insisted their destruction was “operational” and that the decision was taken by then UK Border Agency officials [replaced by UK Visas and Immigration in 2013] rather than May.
Kerslake, who sits as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords and who has advised the Labour Party on policy implementation, said it was "pretty unlikely" that the Home Office would destroy records without discussion as "quite a lot of care" was taken on these things.
“But the truth is we don't know,” he told Newsnight. “We need to investigate this in more detail to understand what happened.
“What we can say is that the Borders Agency was effectively part of the civil service and it took its advice and direction from ministers.”
Home secretary Amber Rudd told MPs this week that officials in her department had lost sight of the individuals affected by immigration policy decisions and pledged to take action to address the uncertainty faced by the so-called Windrush generation. "I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual,” she said.