Windrush campaigners have described the government’s decision to drop crucial reform commitments made after the Home Office scandal as a “slap in the face”.
The head of the inquiry into the Windrush debacle was one of those who expressed disappointment after Suella Braverman confirmed she would not implement two key changes that would have increased independent scrutiny of immigration policies, and a third promise to run reconciliation events with Windrush families.
Wendy Williams’s comments were echoed by others such as campaigner Patrick Vernon, who accused the home secretary of “backsliding” on promises to set things right, and victims of the scandal, who said they were dismayed that recommendations were not being followed through.
The recommendations would have intensified external checks on the Home Office weeks after Rishi Sunak staked his political future on plans to curb irregular migration to the UK.
The reform proposals were accepted three years ago by the government, after a formal inquiry by Williams into the scandal under which the Home Office mistakenly classified thousands of legal UK residents as immigration offenders, decades after they arrived as children from Commonwealth countries in the 1950s and 1960s.
Braverman announced in a written ministerial statement: “After considering officials’ advice, I have decided not to proceed with recommendations 3 (run reconciliation events), 9 (introduce migrants’ commissioner) and 10 (review the remit and role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration) in their original format.”
A Guardian article earlier this month revealing that Braverman was planning to drop these commitments made by the former home secretary Priti Patel was dismissed as “fallacious and inaccurate” speculation by a government minister during a debate in the House of Commons.
Confirmation of the decision prompted Williams to issue a rare statement expressing her concern that the government had abandoned its commitment to create the post of a migrants’ commissioner, who would have been responsible for speaking up for migrants and identifying systemic problems within the UK immigration system.
She also expressed regret at the dropping of a promise to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), allowing the inspectorate team to launch and release their own inquiries.
Williams said: “I am disappointed that the department has decided not to implement what I see as the crucial external scrutiny measures, namely my recommendations related to the migrants’ commissioner (recommendation 9) and the ICIBI (recommendation 10), as I believe they will raise the confidence of the Windrush community, but also help the department succeed as it works to protect the wider public, of whom the Windrush generation is such an important part.”
Patel made a firm promise to introduce all 30 recommendations made in 2020 by Williams, who listed in her Windrush Lessons Learned review the precise steps the department needed to take to avoid any repeat of the scandal.
A spreadsheet released with the written ministerial statement revealed that only eight recommendations have been entirely enacted. Nine have not been delivered at all, of which three have been discontinued; the other 13 have only been partially met.
A recommendation to reduce the complexity of immigration law has not been implemented. A commitment to reviewing all the hostile environment policies introduced when Theresa May was home secretary has also not been met, but officials said the department planned to publish several evaluation documents “shortly”.
The Conservative former immigration minister Kevin Foster tweeted: “The Windrush scandal was a stain on this country. Committing to implement all of Wendy Williams’s recommendations was a key part of rebuilding confidence with the communities affected. I share Wendy’s disappointment this pledge is not being honoured.”
Braverman’s decision was widely condemned by people who have been working to secure justice for those affected.
Social commentator and political campaigner Patrick Vernon said: “This June marks 75 years of the contribution made to Britain by the Windrush generation and their descendants. For the home secretary to be backsliding on government commitments to set right the injustices of the Windrush scandal – particularly in this anniversary year – is a slap in the face for those communities.
One of the people affected by the scandal, Judy Griffith, 68, was told in 2015 by a jobcentre employee that she was an “illegal immigrant”, 52 years after she had arrived as a nine-year-old from Barbados. She was unable to work and as a result got into significant arrears and narrowly escaped eviction. She was also unable to travel, so could not visit her sick mother in Barbados and missed her funeral in 2016. She said she was depressed to hear that some of the reform commitments were being dropped.
“It feels like they aren’t interested in learning lessons. So many reports and recommendations have been published but much of it has not been followed through,” she said. “So many of us are still waiting for justice.”
Jacqueline McKenzie, the Leigh Day lawyer who has been assisting more than 100 people with their compensation claims, was unhappy at the mothballing of proposed reconciliation events, which were meant to allow those affected to spend time with ministers and senior Home Office staff, explaining the impact of the scandal on their lives. “This is further evidence of the low regard with which they hold not just those affected by the Windrush scandal, but the wider Windrush generation,” she said.
David Neal, the current ICIBI, said the decision was a “missed opportunity” to improve scrutiny and trust in the government’s policies.
“I am disappointed the home secretary has decided not to progress recommendation 10, since this presented an ideal opportunity to take stock and examine a number of issues relating to the independence and effectiveness of the ICIBI,” he said.
Martin Forde, the barrister who devised the Windrush compensation scheme, said: “Confidence in the Home Office, which is already low in the affected community, will be further diminished.”
Braverman is expected to launch a new law next month that will fast-track the detention and removal of migrants.
The immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, is leading an intradepartmental group to limit many services for those without status. A tightening of access to rented housing, bank accounts, healthcare, education, driving licences and public funds will all be looked at.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, accused Braverman of failing to learn the lessons from an “appalling” scandal.
“The Home Office had an opportunity to put its apology to the Windrush victims into action, but it is tragic that the home secretary hasn’t learned the lessons of that appalling scandal.”