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UK Politics

Mark Harper: Immigration minister who quit over cleaner's visa could face £5,000 fine

Barrister specialising in immigration law says former minister could be prosecuted for failing to keep copy of paperwork

Mark Harper, who resigned as Immigration Minister after discovering his Colombian cleaner was in Britain illegally, could face a fine of £5,000, a legal expert claimed today.

Mr Harper quit on Saturday after a check of Home Office records found the woman did not have indefinite leave to remain in this country.

In his resignation letter, he said he had checked her passport and a supporting letter from the Home Office when he employed her in 2007 and took copies of the documents.

But he could not find the papers when he looked for them as he piloted a new Bill through Parliament bringing in a new requirement for employers to check the immigration status of staff.

After obtaining new copies of her paperwork, the Home Office informed him she was in the country illegally and he resigned.

A barrister specialising in immigration law said Mr Harper could be prosecuted for failing to keep a copy of the papers.

Colin Yeo pointed out that the former Attorney General, Lady Scotland, was fined £5,000 for failing to keep the documents of an illegal Tongan immigrant who worked as her housekeeper.

Conservative sources said that did not apply to Mr Harper’s cleaner as she was self-employed. But Mr Yeo said that did not automatically get him off the hook” and “under the current civil penalty regime, Harper would surely be liable”.

Labour has called for a rethink of the proposals on immigration checks by employers.

But Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said Mr Harper would not have been caught by the “reasonably light-touch” plans.

He told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “I was really sad to see Mark go. He was a terrifically strong minister.

“Had he been a member of the public, then I don’t think he would have done anything wrong. But he set himself a very high standard and he failed that standard and therefore honourably stood down.”