Sajid Javid becomes first Muslim home secretary amid Windrush fallout

Javid is the first person of an ethnic minority to take one of the four most senior and prestigious posts in the British government.
Tuesday 01/05/2018
Conservative Muslim at the helm. Britain’s new Home Secretary Sajid Javid arrives for the weekly meeting of the cabinet at Downing Street in London on May 1. (AFP)
Conservative Muslim at the helm. Britain’s new Home Secretary Sajid Javid arrives for the weekly meeting of the cabinet at Downing Street in London on May 1. (AFP)

LONDON - A scandal over the British government’s policy on immigration, and particularly the immigration status of members of the Windrush generation, led to the resignation of UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who was replaced by Sajid Javid.

Javid, 48, is the first person of an ethnic minority to take one of the four most senior and prestigious posts in the British government — prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and home secretary.

Rudd failed to quell public ire regarding the treatment of people from the Windrush generation, immigrants from the Caribbean who were invited to the United Kingdom from 1948 to 1971. A 1971 Immigration Act gave Commonwealth citizens living in the United Kingdom indefinite leave to remain. However, a “hostile environments” policy by the Home Office meant that many members of Windrush generation were unable to prove their status and lost jobs, homes and were refused medical treatment.

Rudd was repeatedly ordered before parliament to answer questions about the Home Office’s policies. She denied that it set “targets” for the removal of illegal immigrants. However, in a series of damaging leaks, it emerged that not only had Home Office reports spoken explicitly about such targets, Rudd had written of enforcing “ambitious but deliverable” goals in a letter to the prime minister.

She announced her resignation April 30, saying she “inadvertently misled” parliament over regarding removal of illegal immigrants.

Javid, who had been communities minister, in his first appearance as home secretary before parliament, promised to “do right” by the Windrush generation.

“I want to start by making a pledge, a pledge to those from the Windrush generation who have been in this country for decades and yet have struggled to navigate through the immigration system: This should never have been the case and I will do whatever it takes to put it right,” he said.

“Like the Caribbean Windrush generation, my parents came to this country from the Commonwealth in the 1960s. They, too, came to help rebuild this country and offer all that they had. So when I heard that people who were long-standing pillars of their community were being impacted for simply not having the right documents to prove their legal status in the UK, I thought that it could be my mum, my brother, my uncle or even me,” he added.

Questions remain as to whether Javid will be able to enact major policy changes under Theresa May, a prime minister who had been the longest serving home secretary of modern times and who has kept a firm grip on her old ministry.

May confirmed that the Home Office had enforced deportation targets during her tenure.

Javid said he would not use the term “hostile environment,” saying this does not reflect “British values.” The political opposition questioned whether that would mean a change in policy.

“The Windrush generation was my parents’ generation. I believe — and most British people believe — that they have been treated appallingly,” said shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

“He will be judged not on the statements he makes. He will be judged on what he does to put the situation right and get justice for the Windrush generation.”

Javid has been a Conservative MP for Bromsgrove in Worcestershire since 2010. He has had several sub-cabinet and ministerial positions, including economic secretary and financial secretary at the Treasury. His first cabinet post was as cultural secretary in 2014-15, then business secretary in 2015-16 and communities secretary in 2016-18.