The head of the Windrush inquiry has expressed disappointment after the home secretary confirmed the government was dropping three key commitments made in the wake of the Windrush scandal.
Suella Braverman said that she will not be implementing all of the accepted recommendations from a review into how the scandal unfolded, including establishing a migrant's commissioner.
She also decided not to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) or to hold reconciliation events with the Windrush community - in a move branded "yet another betrayal".
The Windrush 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 the UK. Following her announcement, Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, said: “Black Britons are being ‘spat on’ by the Conservative government.
“Suella Braverman’s animosity towards our shared multicultural future is trauma-inducing. Our country’s brave Windrush victims are denied justice yet again!”
Wendy Williams, who leads the ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, said that crucial recommendations had been scrapped. Her formal inquiry examined how the Windrush scandal unfolded at the Home Office - when British residents, many of whom had arrived in their youth from Caribbean countries in the 1950s and 60s, were erroneously classified as immigrants living in the UK illegally.
Organiser of this year's 75th-anniversary celebrations of the Windrush generation's arrival in Britain, Patrick Vernon, 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."
In a written statement in the House of Commons, Braverman insisted that the Home Office was looking to "shift culture and subject ourselves to scrutiny". But she confirmed that plans to beef up the powers of the immigration watchdog; set up a new national migrants advocate; and run reconciliation events with Windrush families would be axed, despite the Home Office originally endorsing them after the report's publication.
She added that the department regularly reviews the best way to deliver against the intent of the inquiry. The announcement comes sixth months before events to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first Windrush arrival.
It's the latest development in a saga which is believed to have impacted thousands and forced the government to formally apologise to hundreds of families. The inquiry stopped short of accusing the Home Office of institutional racism but said there was evidence of institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush Generation within the department.
The government originally adopted all 30 of the proposals in the report but has now backtracked on three of them:
· Establishing a commissioner responsible for speaking up for migrants and those affected by the system directly or indirectly
· Giving the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) new powers
· Holding a series of reconciliation events with people impacted to listen and reflect on their stories
The proposed changes included compelling the government to publish its reasons if it opted to go against a recommendation made by the body. Ms Williams, a solicitor who serves as an HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, led the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and authored the recommendations.
In a statement following Ms Braverman's announcement, she said she understood there was a "difference in views" about the need for outreach events. But she criticised the decision to drop the commissioner and inspector proposals, which she said would have raised the "confidence of the Windrush community".
She added she that was disappointed that the department has decided not to implement what I see as the crucial external scrutiny measures. David Neal, who heads the ICIBI, described the decision as a "missed opportunity".
The Windrush Generation is made up of people who can trace their roots back to immigration from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971, which was encouraged to deal with post-war labour shortages. A law was passed in 1971 which gave people from the Commonwealth who arrived before 1973 the right to remain but the Home Office did not issue documentation.
The lack of paperwork left many unable to access basic services like healthcare and benefits under increasingly strict immigration rules. In 2014, reports began to emerge of British citizens being wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation because they could not prove their legal right to stay in the UK.
A Home Office spokesperson said that the department had paid or offered more than £64m in compensation to the people affected. The majority of proposals from the inquiry were being adopted, they added, saying that they felt that there are more meaningful ways of achieving the intent of a very small number of others".