Theresa May's 'hostile environment' policy seen as 'almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany', says former civil service chief

'This was a very contested piece of legislation across government departments,' said Lord Kerslake

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 April 2018 13:03 BST
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Former civil service chief Lord Kerslake says 'hostile environment' policy on illegal immigration 'almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany'

Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy brought against illegal immigrants when she was in charge of the Home Office was seen as “almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany” by some in government, a former civil service chief has claimed.

The remarks from Lord Kerslake, who was in charge of the civil service between 2012 and 2014, come amid mounting pressure on Downing Street over the Windrush scandal.

On Wednesday evening it emerged that one of the citizens who arrived from the Caribbean in the 1960s died suddenly while embroiled in turmoil over his immigration status.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, the crossbench peer said deep concerns about the “hostile environment” policy towards immigrants were expressed across government.

“I think it was not just a question of the home secretary being told it was a challenging policy, the prime minister was as well,” he said. “This was a very contested piece of legislation across government departments.”

“Now, I can't say, and shouldn't say, as the former head of the civil service, precisely who gave what advice to whom. But, what I can tell you, it was highly contested and there were some who saw it, I shan't name them, as almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the way it's working.”

Asked if he was referring to people in the civil service, Lord Kerslake said: “No, some in the ministers were deeply unhappy.”

Pressed on whether the government could say that experts did not warn them a Windrush generation problem could be a consequence of the move, Lord Kerslake said: “Look, I don't think they can say that really.

“You created an environment in which action was going to be taken and there was a risk, it was obvious to everyone, that you would take the rough with the smooth. I think it would be just quite wrong to land this on the civil service, basically.

“This was a conscious policy in order to hold on to a strong policy position that was proving very difficult to imply.”

Lord Kerslake said it was “completely ridiculous” for Amber Rudd, the current home secretary, to attempt to blame civil servants for the Windrush situation. “You cannot create a climate and then not expect it to have consequences,” he said.

Responding to Lord Kerslake’s comments, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, said: “Well, I’ve never heard anyone make that comparison before Lord Kerslake made it. It is not for me to criticise a distinguished former public servant like Lord Kerslake, but I respectfully disagree."

Windrush campaigner and prominent Labour MP David Lammy said: “In light of this crisis and the devastating impact it has had on huge numbers of innocent people, I am calling on the prime minister to establish an independent review of immigration policy and the hostile environment.

“Lessons must be learnt from the Windrush crisis and a review is now a vital step in understanding how and why our immigration system treats people in this way and what reforms are needed to prevent any further cruelty and injustices.”

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