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May hits back at claims she was callous to Windrush generation

The PM tells MPs the Government will not deport people legally entitled to be in the UK.

Theresa May (PA)
Theresa May (PA)

Theresa May has hit back at Labour accusations the Government had been “callous and incompetent” in its treatment of the so-called “Windrush generation” as she again apologised to those wrongly threatened with deportation.

During furious exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Question’s, Mrs May said she would not take lessons from a leader who “allows anti-Semitism to run rife in his party”.

It followed a highly personal attack by the Labour leader who said it was her “pandering to bogus immigration targets” when she was home secretary that had cost people jobs, homes and pensions.

Mr Corbyn also accused the Government of destroying thousands of landing cards of Commonwealth citizens, which could have helped confirm their immigration status.

However Mrs May said the destruction had taken place in 2009 under the former Labour government – even though the Home Office had previously said it was carried out in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition took office.

Later on Wednesday the Home Office said a total of 113 people have called a Government hotline for members of the Windrush generation with concerns about their migration status.

A Downing Street spokesman later said the UK Border Agency approved a business case in June 2009 to dispose of paper records, including the landing slips, and the process of destroying them began in December that year.

The operational decision to destroy the slips themselves was taken in October 2010, after the coalition came to power. Mrs May was not involved in the decision, which was taken at official level, said the spokesman.

Her disclosure prompted shouts of “apologise” from the Conservative benches to Mr Corbyn.

Mrs May told MPs the Government was committed to helping those who had had their immigration status questioned by the Home Office to resolve their position as quickly as possible.

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

“For those who have mistakenly received letters challenging them, I want to apologise to them and I want to say sorry to anyone who has been caused confusion and anxiety by this.”

Mr Corbyn said: “This is a shameful episode and the responsibility for it lies firmly at the Prime Minister’s door.

“Her pandering to bogus immigration targets led to a hostile environment for people contributing to our country.”

Mrs May hit back with a reference to an impassioned Commons debate on Tuesday when a series of Labour MPs rose to condemn anti-Semitism within its own ranks.

“I will not take an accusation of callous from a man who allows anti-Semitism to run rife in his party,” she said.

The exchanges came as it emerged 49 people had on Tuesday contacted a new Home Office hotline set up to help Commonwealth citizens whose immigration status has been challenged.

The problems affected those arrived in the years up to 1973 – often as schoolchildren – who  automatically received the right to live in the UK but who never acquired documents such as a passport, which could prove their status.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Home Secretary Amber Rudd should should take responsibility for what had happened.

“The way Amber Rudd is attempting to avoid responsibility is very concerning. I think she needs to consider her position,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Meanwhile Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness called for compensation for those affected.

“My view is that if there is an acceptance that a wrong was done then there should be a process of restoration,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“And I’m certain that the very strong and robust civil society and democracy that you have will come up with a process of compensation.”

Windrush timeline (Infographic from PA Graphics)

A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Government’s story is shifting by the hour. First Downing Street claimed the decision to destroy the Windrush-era landing cards was made by the Home Office in 2010 for data protection reasons. Then the Home Office passed the buck to a 2010 decision by the UK Border Agency.

“At PMQs, the Prime Minister tried to shift the blame on to the last Labour government but was undermined by her own spokesperson minutes later, who then stated it was an operational decision, which Labour ministers would not have been aware of.

“Her spokesperson couldn’t even say when the cards were destroyed.

“In the confusion, one thing is already clear: The change in the law in 2014 that meant members of the Windrush generation faced deportation and the loss of their rights, including to healthcare, was made in full view of the fact that the vital information had been destroyed.

“The Home Secretary at the time must be held to account for the disastrous impact her ‘hostile environment’ policies have had on the lives of British citizens.”

Press Association

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