Theresa May gave a personal apology to Caribbean leaders today for the treatment of Windrush citizens threatened with deportation and denied healthcare.
Mrs May was attending a meeting with Commonwealth leaders from nine countries, including Jamaican premier Andrew Holness and Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados, who have expressed anger that some blameless Commonwealth citizens had lived under the shadow of deportation for years or been refused access to free NHS treatment.
Mrs May was expected to add that a crackdown on illegal migrants she announced as home secretary in 2014 was not aimed at the Windrush generation, who were valued members of the British community. The Prime Minister’s office had initially declined a meeting on the issue, without telling Mrs May, but after the row threatened to overshadow this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, she dashed to make amends and promise action.
She was expected to promise that help would be offered to any Commonwealth citizen who has been challenged to prove their right to live in the UK.
“She will say that the Home Secretary apologised in the House of Commons yesterday and she wants to apologise to you today,” said a No 10 source.
Mrs May started the bridge-building in talks with Mr Holness at Downing Street before the summit.
The official No 10 statement said: “The Prime Minister said she deeply valued the contribution made by the Windrush generation and all Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK, and that the UK Government would ensure the correct support was in place to give people certainty about their existing right to reside here.”
Mr Holness alluded to the row during a photocall with Mrs May today when he hailed discussions as a chance to “strengthen and possibly reset” the relationship between Jamaica and Britain. “Sometimes, these ties — though they bind us together — sometimes they wane,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t get the attention, so I see this as a great opportunity for us to rebuild the relationship to strengthen.”
The Windrush generation are the thousands of migrants invited to Britain between 1947 and the Seventies to help rebuild the war-shattered nation.
Decades later, many were caught up in a clampdown designed to identify later waves of illegal immigrants. It meant that people raised and educated in Britain were ordered to prove their right to live in the UK or face deportation.
However, some said an apology would not heal their scars. Paulette Wilson, from Wolverhampton, who came to Britain from Jamaica aged 10 in the late Sixties, spent two years under the threat of deportation, including time in a detention centre, before being told she could stay.
Asked if he was ashamed of how the Government had dealt with the issue, Mr Lidington told Sky News: “I think it’s clear it’s been badly handled.”
There was confusion yesterday when immigration minister Caroline Nokes appeared to admit some individuals might have been deported in error.
Mr Lidington told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We don’t know of any cases where someone has been deported from this category.” He said Home Office staff were searching records to see if anything had gone “appallingly wrong in that way”.
During Mrs May’s time at the Home Office she oversaw the introduction of the 2014 Immigration Act which required the NHS and employers to take action if workers could not provide documents to show they had a right to live in the UK.
In 2016, all private landlords in England were required to check if new tenants had the right to be in the UK before renting out their property.