LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s interior minister faced calls to resign on Thursday after giving contradictory statements about meeting targets for deportations, deepening a scandal over Britain’s treatment of Caribbean immigrants.
For nearly two weeks, British ministers have been struggling to explain why some descendants of the so-called “Windrush generation”, invited to Britain to plug labor shortfalls between 1948 and 1971, had been labeled as illegal immigrants.
The “Windrush” scandal overshadowed the Commonwealth summit last week in London and has raised questions about Theresa May’s six-year stint as interior minister before she became prime minister in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Amber Rudd, current interior minister, or home secretary, told lawmakers on Wednesday that Britain did not have targets for the removal of immigrants, but on Thursday was forced to clarify her words after leaked documents showed some targets did exist.
“I have never agreed that there should be specific removal targets and I would never support a policy that puts targets ahead of people,” Rudd told parliament in answer to an urgent request for a statement from the opposition Labour Party.
“The immigration arm of the home office has been using local targets for internal performance management,” Rudd said. “These were not published targets against which performance was assessed. But if they were used inappropriately then this will have to change.”
Opposition lawmakers called for her to resign.
“Isn’t it time that the Home Secretary considered her honor and resign?” asked the Labour Party’s home affairs spokeswoman, Diane Abbott.
May’s spokesman said the prime minister had full confidence in Rudd.
The spokesman added that the idea of removal targets went back a number of decades under successive governments.
“The Home Secretary is working hard in order to address the concerns that have been raised in relation to Windrush and to ensure they are addressed and put right,” the spokesman added.
May has apologized for the Windrush scandal and promised citizenship to all those affected.
But the fiasco has raised awkward questions about how the pursuit of lower immigration after Britain’s 2019 exit from the European Union sits alongside the desire to be an outward-looking global economy.
Some of the Windrush migrants have been made homeless, lost their jobs, threatened with deportation and denied benefits, according to the Guardian newspaper.
The crisis has focused attention on May, who as interior minister set out to create a “really hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, imposing tough new requirements in 2012 for people to prove their legal status.
Writing by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Richard Balmforth