(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s past policy decisions came back to bite her after a minister said that the Home Office, which the prime minister ran for six years, had wrongly locked up and deported people who had the right to live in Britain.
May’s time as Home Secretary was marked by a determination to reduce net immigration numbers. She said in 2012 that she wanted to create a “really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.” Rules were applied strictly, and ended up affecting people they hadn’t been designed to target.
It came to a head on Monday with a row about the so-called “Windrush Generation,” people who came to Britain in the years after 1948, first on board the ship HMT Empire Windrush. They came from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the government, which wanted workers. Seven decades later, some of those who came as children, without documentation because as citizens of British colonies they didn’t need it, have been told their lack of papers means they have no right to stay.
“There have been some horrendous situations which as a minister have appalled me,” Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes told ITV News on Monday. “I don’t know the numbers” of people who have actually been deported.
Amid outcry from lawmakers on all sides, Nokes blamed junior officials for past poor decisions, and said she was determined that Windrush cases would now be handled more sympathetically.
“It is an absolute scandal that the Home Office doesn’t even know how many people they have wrongly deported,” the opposition Labour Party’s spokeswoman on home affairs, Diane Abbott, said in a statement. "The Windrush Generation must have their rights as British citizens confirmed, any who have been deported must be invited back to the U.K. immediately and those who oversaw their deportations must be held to account.”
Abbott also called on May to apologize for “this mess which has taken place as a direct consequence of the hostile environment she created.”
May is hosting the leaders of the countries that used to make up Britain’s empire, the Commonwealth, in London this week, and her problems were compounded when her office refused a meeting with some of those leaders to discuss the issue. Her spokesman James Slack said on Monday that this had been an error, and that the first the prime minister had known about the meeting request was that morning. He said she would now meet them.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd is due to take questions in Parliament at 2.30 p.m.
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