Theresa May says Labour to blame for destroyed Windrush landing cards

Prime minister issues personal apology for 'confusion and anxiety' caused by row

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 18 April 2018 13:14 BST
Theresa May says the decision to destroy Windrush landing cards was taken in 2009 under Labour

Theresa May has claimed the decision to destroy landing cards belonging to the Windrush generation was taken by the previous Labour government.

MPs were in uproar when the prime minister pointed the finger of blame at Jeremy Corbyn's party for the move, where thousands of files recording dates of arrival in the UK for Windrush migrants were discarded by the Home Office.

Ms May also issued a personal apology to Windrush citizens for the "confusion and anxiety" caused by the row, which blew up after it emerged British citizens who emigrated to the UK from the Commonwealth had been denied medical care, lost their jobs or threatened to return to countries they left as children.

In a heated exchange at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Corbyn said: "Yesterday, we learned in 2010 the Home Office destroyed the landing cards for a generation of Commonwealth citizens and so have told people 'we can't find you in our system'.

"Did the prime minister, the then-home secretary, sign off that decision?"

Ms May replied: "No, the decision to destroy the landing cards was taken in 2009 under a Labour government."

Tory MPs shouted "apologise" to Labour at her words, which could prove highly embarrassing for the opposition front bench after Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, suggested Amber Rudd should resign over the controversy.

Mr Corbyn shot back, saying the Tories had created a "really hostile environment" for immigrants.

He said: "I think we need some absolute clarity on the destruction of the landing cards, and if she is trying to blame officials, I remind her of what she said in 2004 when she said she was sick and tired of government ministers who blame other people when things go wrong."

Downing Street later clarified that the decision had been an "operational" move by UK Border Force, so ministers would not have been aware when it was taken.

But a Labour spokesperson said their "story is shifting by the hour", and called for Ms May to be held to account for the "disastrous impact her 'hostile environment' policies have had on the lives of British citizens."

The prime minister was forced to apologise to Caribbean leaders in a meeting at Downing Street on Tuesday, as the row threatened to overshadow a high-profile summit with Commonwealth ministers this week.

"These people are British. They are part of us and I want to be absolutely clear that we have no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here," Ms May told MPs.

"For those who have mistakenly received letters challenging them I want to apologise them and I want to say sorry to anyone who has been caused confusion and anxiety as a result of this."

Theresa May apologises to those affected by Windrush deportation errors

The majority of citizens who arrived before 1971 will have the documentation to prove their status, but the small number who do not will receive urgent help from the Home Office, she said.

Thousands of people are believed to lack the documents they need to prove their immigration, under the “hostile environment” for suspected illegal immigrants introduced by Ms May when she was home secretary.

Affected citizens will not be “left out of pocket” while they establish their credentials to meet new government rules, the prime minister has promised.

Downing Street also said compensation would be considered if Windrush immigrants had suffered financial losses as a result of the scandal.

Home Office officials have been given two weeks to scour their records to find if anyone has been wrongly deported, after immigration minister Caroline Nokes suggested some people might have already been expelled from the UK in error.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in