UK interior minister Amber Rudd resigns after immigration scandal

Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd in central London, Britain, 24 April 2018. Rudd is under pressure due to the scandal around the citizenship status of the, 'Windrush generation', people who came from the Caribbean from 1948 and 1971 in response to Britain's post-war labour shortages. [EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN]

Britain’s interior minister Amber Rudd resigned on Sunday (29 April) over an illegal immigration policy controversy, in a bitter blow to Prime Minister Theresa May days before local elections.

Rudd stood down amid claims she mislead lawmakers on whether her department held targets for removing illegal immigrants in Britain.

“The prime minister has tonight accepted the resignation of the home secretary,” said a spokesman for May’s office.

In a resignation letter to May, Amber Rudd said she had inadvertently misled a parliamentary committee last Wednesday by denying the government had targets for the deportation of illegal migrants.

For two weeks, British ministers have been struggling to explain why some descendants of the so-called “Windrush generation”, invited to Britain to plug labour shortfalls between 1948 and 1971, had been denied basic rights.

The Windrush scandal overshadowed the Commonwealth summit in London and has raised questions about May’s six-year stint as interior minister before she became prime minister in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“The Windrush scandal has rightly shone a light on an important issue for our country,” Rudd said in a resignation letter to May.

Immigration topped concerns for Brexit voters

Migration was the main motivation for almost half of Leave voters in the Brexit referendum, but areas with the most immigrants tended to vote Remain. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

May’s “hostile environment” policy

The erroneous targeting of “Windrush” immigrants stemmed from a “hostile environment” immigration policy pioneered by May when she was interior minister between 2010 and 2016, and then continued by Rudd.

The opposition Labour Party had accused Rudd of incompetence and being a “human shield” for May.

“This was inevitable, the only surprise is that it took so long,” said shadow interior minister Diane Abbott following Rudd’s resignation.

“The architect of this crisis, Theresa May, must now step forward to give a full and honest account of how this inexcusable situation happened on her watch.”

Rudd’s decision to step down will come as a severe setback for the Conservative leader, who publicly declared her “full confidence” in Rudd as recently as Friday and faces potentially bruising local council elections across England on Thursday.

May could see the Tories wiped out in London, where several once-safe Conservative councils could flip to Labour.

Deportation targets

As the Windrush scandal intensified, Rudd told a parliamentary committee the Home Office did not keep targets for the number of illegal immigrants removed from Britain.

While she maintained she was unaware of such measures, there was mounting evidence that targets did exist and were known about within her department, making her position increasingly untenable.

The final straw came from an article published on Sunday by the Guardian newspaper, which reported a letter from Rudd to May last year in which she stated an “ambitious but deliverable” aim for an increase in the enforced deportation of immigrants.

Rudd had been due to make another appearance before parliament on Monday, but instead opted to resign late Sunday.

UK sends deportation warnings to 100 EU citizens by mistake

Britain’s interior ministry sent deportation warnings to around 100 EU citizens by mistake, it emerged on Wednesday (23 August), an incident that campaigners said would increase fears among Europeans living in Britain.

Amber seen as a moderate in May’s cabinet

The MP for Hastings on England’s south coast, who had led the Home Office since 2016, was seen as a moderate on the European Union and a balancing force in a cabinet made up of several big-name pro-Brexit figures, such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Both men were quick to praise her on social media following news of the resignation.

“Really sad to lose @AmberRuddHR from Cabinet. A fine colleague who did a great job during last year’s terrorist attacks and cares deeply about the people she serves,” Johnson tweeted.

Gove said he was “so sad” about her departure, adding on Twitter “she was a huge asset… I hope Amber will be back soon – we need her.”

One of the more heartfelt reactions came from George Osborne, long-time finance minister under former Prime Minister David Cameron.

He wrote: “The Government just got a bit less human.”

Brussels must bite the bullet on a common EU migration policy

The EU Commission is soon to re-enter the conflict over immigration. Whether it will do so timidly or in a blaze of political courage remains to be seen when it unveils ideas for a ‘European Labour Authority,” writes Giles Merritt.

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