The Home Secretary’s decision to “backslide” on reforms designed to prevent another Windrush scandal has been branded a “slap in the face” for the communities affected.
Suella Braverman has decided to row back on accepted recommendations made following a scathing review into how the Windrush scandal unfolded at the Home Office.
She has dropped a commitment to establish a migrants’ commissioner — a decision which has been criticised by the head of the Windrush inquiry.
The Cabinet minister has also chosen not to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) or to hold reconciliation events with the Windrush community.
Patrick Vernon, convenor of the Windrush 75 network, said: “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.
“Suella Braverman should make a clear commitment to right the wrongs of the Windrush scandal.”
Senior Labour MP David Lammy said those people from black communities who were “detained and deported” during the Windrush scandal were being “once again spat on” following the Home Secretary’s decision.
The scandal erupted in 2018 when British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, were wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation, despite having the right to live in Britain.
Many lost homes and jobs, and were denied access to healthcare and benefits.
Wendy Williams, the solicitor who carried out the Windrush Lessons Learned Review that was published in 2020, said she was “disappointed” Ms Braverman had reversed the Home Office pledges to establish the position of migrants’ commissioner and strengthen the ICIBI post.
Former home secretary Priti Patel had originally accepted all 30 of the recommendations made by Ms Williams, including the three ditched on Thursday.
The role of migrants’ commissioner was due to see someone appointed who would be responsible for speaking up for migrants and flagging systemic problems within the UK immigration system.
In her progress review published last year, Ms Williams warned that without a commissioner, the department “risks undermining its stated commitment to transparency and effective policy making, as well as the efforts to rebuild its reputation”.
In a statement following Ms Braverman’s announcement, Ms Williams, who serves as an HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, said she understood there were “differences in views about the external events” associated with the reconciliation scheme.
But she added: “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 (Rec 9) and the ICIBI (Rec 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.”
David Neal, the current ICIBI, said it was a “missed opportunity” not to look at increasing the powers associated with his role.
“A role and remit review would have provided an opportunity to assess whether the level of resourcing provided to the inspectorate is appropriate,” he said.
The Labour MP said: “Four years after Wendy Williams’s review, just eight of its recommendations have been fully implemented and now some have been dropped altogether, including important safeguards to strengthen the borders inspectorate.
“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.”
Ms Braverman made the announcement on dropping the Windrush pledges in a written statement to the House of Commons, declaring that she had “decided not to proceed” with three of Ms Williams’ recommendations “in their original format”.
She said external bodies were “not the only source of scrutiny” and that she would, instead of establishing a commissioner or beefing up the chief inspector’s powers, look to “shift culture and subject ourselves to scrutiny”.
On reconciliation events — proposed meetings between ministers, Home Office staff and those targeted during the scandal — Ms Braverman said she had been “persuaded that there are more effective ways of engaging with those impacted”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are making progress towards the vast majority of recommendations from Wendy Williams’ report, and believe there are more meaningful ways of achieving the intent of a very small number of others.
“Through this work, we will make sure that similar injustices can never be repeated and are creating a Home Office worthy of every community it serves.”