Sajid Javid breaks barriers in becoming ethnic minority home secretary

Javid is known to be a staunch Thatcherite and is expected to take a pro-business stance.
Sunday 06/05/2018
British Home Secretary Sajid Javid poses outside the Home Office in London, on April 30. (AP)
Massive task. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid poses outside the Home Office in London, on April 30. (AP)

LONDON - Sajid Javid being selected the United Kingdom’s home secretary represented a major step forward for Britain’s ethnic minorities, with many hailing the appointment as a political masterstroke by Prime Minister Theresa May following a protracted political scandal centring on immigration.

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

“No matter your politics, today is a historic moment for our nation. He becomes the first ethnic minority Brit to hold one of the great offices of state,” tweeted Martin Edobor, a National Health Service doctor and national chairman of the Young Fabians, a centre-left think tank.

A Conservative MP for Bromsgrove in Worcestershire in the West Midlands, Javid is known to be a staunch Thatcherite and is expected to take a pro-business stance at the Home Office.

More important, his appointment, analysts say, does not unbalance May’s “war cabinet” of senior Brexit advisers. Javid said he reluctantly voted “Remain” in the 2016 referendum but has since sought to burnish his Eurosceptic credentials, including calling for the United Kingdom not to remain in the European Union’s customs union.

Javid’s family arrived in the United Kingdom from Pakistan in the 1960s, answering a post-second world war demand to fill British jobs. His father, Abdul, worked in a cotton mill and as a bus driver, raising comparisons with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, whose father was also a bus driver. Khan became the first Muslim to be elected as the mayor of a major Western city in 2016.

Javid has described himself as a “non-practising Muslim” but said that he “recognises” his family’s heritage and culture.

Javid, then business secretary, was among the first to congratulate Khan — the Labour candidate — on his mayoral election victory, despite hailing from an opposition party. “From one son of a Pakistani bus driver to another, congratulations,” he tweeted, in a message that was retweeted more than 2,000 times.

Two years later, it was Khan’s turn to tweet congratulations and a pointed reminder about how Javid came to the post of home secretary.

“I hope we can work together to tackle the tough challenges we face — from making sure our police have the resources they need, urgently dealing with the Windrush scandal and putting an end to the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants,” Khan tweeted.

Javid replaced Amber Rudd as home secretary amid the Windrush scandal and criticism of the Home Office’s “hostile environments” policy towards illegal immigration. Immigrants from the Caribbean and their dependents who were invited to the United Kingdom from 1948-71 to take jobs said they faced problems proving their status to new Home Office policies, forcing many to lose jobs, homes and be refused urgent medical treatment.

Rudd was repeatedly ordered before parliament to answer questions about the Home Office’s policies. She denied the department 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.

Javid pledged to “do right” by the Windrush generation and turn a new leaf on Home Office immigration policies, particularly the “hostile environments” language.

“The phrase ‘hostile’ is a phrase I’m not going to use. It’s a compliant environment. I think that it [hostile] is a phrase that is unhelpful and it doesn’t represent our values as a country,” he said.

Many hope the appointment of a second-generation immigrant to head the Home Office will see more than just cosmetic changes to its policies on immigration.

“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,” Javid said in his first speech as Home Secretary.

He has already faced a backlash on his appointment, with what the media described as a “torrent” of racist abuse from both the left and the right.

“The minister, whose parents came here from Pakistan, was branded a ‘coconut’ and an ‘Uncle Tom’ by some social media users,” London’s Metro newspaper said.