Theresa May gave a personal apology to Caribbean leaders as the government rushed to repair the damage from revelations over the treatment of the so-called “Windrush generation”.
Ministers pledged immediate action to support immigrants who arrived as British subjects in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s – and their British-born children – who find themselves threatened with deportation after decades living in the UK.
At hastily-arranged Downing Street talks with 12 heads of government on the margins of a Commonwealth summit, the Prime Minister said she was “genuinely sorry” for the anxiety that had been caused.
However, her apology was undermined by news that a man whose mother arrived from the West Indies in the 1950s was facing imminent deportation. Mozi Haynes’ removal was only suspended after the case was raised by Labour MP David Lammy, prompting a personal intervention by immigration minister Caroline Noakes.
It also emerged that the landing cards of thousands of Windrush immigrants were destroyed, removing the last evidence that could confirm the date of their arrival in the UK and their right to remain.
“I want to dispel any impression that my government is in some sense clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean,” the Prime Minister told Caribbean leaders in Number 10. “I take this issue very seriously… and I want to apologise to you today. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused. I don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom.”
Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness said following the meeting that he accepted Mrs May’s apology, adding: “I believe that the right thing is being done at this time.”
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said officials were trawling through the files to establish if any individuals had been wrongly deported. Mr Lidington said compensation could be made available to those who have lost jobs and homes after wrongly being told they were living in the UK illegally. The Home Office has said a taskforce being set up to resolve the growing number of cases will ensure that members of the Windrush generation will not face legal fees to confirm their rights.
Mrs May’s official spokesman said the destruction of West Indian migrant landing slips was an “operational decision” by the Border Agency and “the right one to take”.
Mr Lammy said the actions of the Home Office were a “national disgrace”, adding: “Heads must roll over this and the Home Secretary and immigration minister must consider their positions.”