Britain’s May names new minister to try to end immigration scandal
LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a former banker of South Asian origin as interior minister on Monday, trying to draw a line under an immigration scandal threatening her authority as she negotiates Brexit.
Sajid Javid, the son of immigrants from Pakistan, replaces Amber Rudd, who quit as Home Secretary after acknowledging she had “inadvertently misled” parliament by denying the government had targets for the number of illegal migrants Britain deports.
British ministers have struggled for two weeks to explain why some descendants of the so-called “Windrush generation”, invited to Britain from its former colonies to plug labour shortfalls between 1948 and 1971, were denied basic rights.
Javid, the first lawmaker from Britain’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community to become interior minister, tried before his appointment to address public anger over the scandal by saying his own family could have been caught up in it.
“We are going to have a strategy in place … about making sure that we have an immigration policy that is fair, it treats people with respect and with decency, and that will be one of my most urgent tasks,” Javid told Sky News on Monday.
A spokesman for May said Javid, who had been minister for housing, communities and local government, “is one of the most experienced ministers around the cabinet table”.
“At Housing, he has proved his drive, his ambition and determination to get to grips with difficult subjects, and these are abilities which will all be required at the Home Office.”
May will hope Javid’s appointment deflects public anger over a problem the opposition Labour Party says is at least partly her fault because she spent six years as home secretary.
Out campaigning on Monday, May defended the government’s use of targets to tackle illegal immigration and declined to answer directly when asked whether she should take the blame for what opposition lawmakers call a toxic culture at the Home Office.
While aimed at ending the scandal, Javid’s appointment could also change the balance of May’s top team in negotiating Britain’s departure from the European Union in March 2019.
Rudd was one of the most outspokenly pro-European members of May’s cabinet. Javid was a lukewarm campaigner to stay in the bloc and has said the referendum result in 2016 meant that “in some ways, we’re all Brexiteers now”.
Britain’s interior ministry, or Home Office, is known in government as one of the toughest departments to lead, charged with immigration, the police and security at a volatile time of public spending cuts, Islamist attacks and Brexit talks.
Javid called on voters in local elections on Thursday, when the Conservatives could lose councils in London, to look at the government’s attempts to “put things right”.
May was the longest-serving home secretary in decades before becoming prime minister, and some opposition figures have accused her of drawing up overly harsh immigration policies.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, again called on her to answer questions about her time at the Home Office, when “she was presiding over, in her terms, the creation of a ‘hostile environment’”.
Rudd lasted less than two years, becoming the fourth minister May has lost to scandals in the last six months.
“INADVERTENTLY MISLED” PARLIAMENT
A close ally to May, Rudd admitted she had “inadvertently misled” a parliamentary committee last Wednesday by denying the government had targets for the deportation of illegal migrants.
After days of apologies, Rudd wrote in her resignation letter that she “should have been aware” of the targets, but added that Britons “want people who have a right to live here to be treated fairly and humanely, which has sometimes not been the case” – a criticism of her own ministry, and possibly of May.
May will look to Javid, known for his passion for detail when business minister, to put a stop to what has been an almost continual drip-feed of criticism of the ministry.
But some doubted whether he would soften the approach to immigration. “Sajid Javid is one of the most right-wing anti-immigration politicians in the Conservative Party,” said Dr Kehinde Andrews, an associate professor at Birmingham City University who specialises in race issues. “The fact that his skin is brown does not change anything in that at all.”
But his appointment did lift the spirits of pro-Brexit campaigners, who said Javid would press their arguments in May’s cabinet, unlike Rudd, who was seen as pro-EU and a supporter of keeping the closest possible ties with the bloc.
Pro-EU lawmakers, instead, welcomed Rudd to the “back benches”, hoping she would join forces with them to further weaken May’s position in parliament, where she lost her party’s majority in an ill-judged election last year. (Reuters)