The Prime Minister’s pursuit of a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants in Britain was seen in Whitehall as “almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany”, the former chief of the civil service has claimed.
Lord Kerslake’s remarks will deepen scrutiny of the immigration policies Theresa May established during her time in the Home Office, before she entered 10 Downing Street.
The problems suffered by the Windrush generation of British citizens have also thrown sharp focus on the Government’s attitude towards immigration, with some calling for an independent review of UK immigration policy.
Lord Kerslake, who headed the civil service between 2012 and 2014, revealed some ministers were “deeply unhappy” with the “hostile environment” policy at the time.
“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 told BBC Newsnight.
“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.”
The Windrush generation are named after the cruise ship that brought one of the first large groups of West Indians to Britain, as the country sought to rebuild after the Second World War.
Anyone who entered the UK before 1973 is legally entitled to live in Britain, but many of the Windrush generation have recently suffered issues as a result of tightened UK immigration requirements introduced under Mrs May.
Their problems include difficulties when finding work, getting NHS care, accessing benefits, or trying to secure housing, as they do not have the correct documentation to prove they are entitled to live in the UK.
The Home Office has confirmed 113 cases are now being investigated, but ministers have insisted they are yet to find evidence to confirm reports that some of the Windrush generation have been wrongly deported.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn clashed over who was responsible for the destruction of landing cards that recorded the arrival of the Windrush generation in Britain.
It has since emerged the Home Office was warned by its own officials that the tightening of immigration controls by Mrs May as home secretary could impact older British citizens such as the Windrush generation.
The Daily Mail reported an 11-page document – assessing the impact of 2014 rules for landlords to check the immigration status of tenants – did not specifically mention the Windrush generation, but stated: “Some non-UK born older people may have additional difficulties in providing original documentation.
“Some may have had their immigration records destroyed. Some will have originally come into the country under old legislation but may have difficulty in evidencing this.”
The Home Office told the newspaper it did a lot of work on rental checks “to ensure they did not have an adverse impact on any group”.
Current Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been hauled before the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee next week to explain ministers’ response to the Windrush scandal, with the Government having promised to resolve cases within two weeks.
Labour MP David Lammy, who has accused the Government of overseeing “a day of national shame” over the Windrush scandal, wrote to the Prime Minister on Thursday to demand answers to 10 separate questions on the row.
Mr Lammy, whose parents were part of the Windrush generation, also called on Mrs May to learn lessons and “establish an independent review of immigration policy and the hostile environment”.
Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants, joined the demand for a rethink of immigration politcies.
He told Sky News: “There needs to be a full inquiry as to how this kind of thing gets so far that we’re even targeting British citizens.
“In our line of work we see people every day from every country in the world, who have very legitimate reasons to be here – their rights are often recognised actually by law – and they are processed by a brutal regime at the Home Office that was left behind by Theresa May.
“There are mistakes routinely, there is human error in addition to just a systemic problem of treating immigrants in a certain way or treating people who might be presumed to be immigrants.
“As we’ve seen with the Windrush generation, these people weren’t even immigrants. So you’ve got a system that is so hostile and so fundamentalist in its approach that it’s even targeting British citizens now.”
However, the Prime Minister’s immigration policies were defended by her former chief of staff Nick Timothy, who worked with Mrs May in both the Home Office and Number 10.
Calling on officials to solve the “tragic tale” of the Windrush generation, Mr Timothy wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “Ministers are right to make Britain a harder country to live in for people who are here illegally.
“In recent years, they have made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to rent property, get a job, claim benefits and obtain bank accounts and driving licences.
“Even sceptical studies find that this increases the number leaving country voluntarily: ministers should not reverse the policy, but extend it to include other services.”
(c) Sky News 2018: PM immigration policies viewed in Whitehall as ‘almost like Nazi Germany’