British minister Amber Rudd resigns over Windrush immigration scandal

Britain's interior minister resigned amid a scandal over authorities' mistreatment of long-term U.K. residents wrongly caught up in a government drive to reduce illegal immigration.

Legal residents from Caribbean had been refused medical care, threatened with deportation

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd had promised to ensure the country's immigration policy was 'humane,' in an effort to defuse public anger over the scandal. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

Britain's interior minister resigned on Sunday after Prime Minister Theresa May's government faced an outpouring of indignation over its treatment of some long-term Caribbean residents who were wrongly labelled illegal immigrants.

The loss of one of May's closest allies is a blow as she navigates the final year of negotiations ahead of Britain's exit from the European Union in March 2019. It also deprives the cabinet of one of its most outspoken pro-European members.

In a resignation letter to May, Amber Rudd said she had inadvertently misled a parliamentary committee last Wednesday by denying the government had targets for the deportation of illegal migrants. May accepted her resignation.

For two weeks, British ministers have been struggling to explain why some descendants of the so-called Windrush generation, invited to Britain to plug labour shortfalls between 1948 and 1971, had been denied basic rights.

The architect of this crisis, Theresa May, must now step forward to give an immediate, full and honest account of how this inexcusable situation happened on her watch.- Dianne Abbott, Labour Party

The Windrush scandal overshadowed the Commonwealth summit in London and has raised questions about May's six-year stint as interior minister before she became prime minister in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

"The Windrush scandal has rightly shone a light on an important issue for our country," Rudd said in a resignation letter to May.

Rudd, who was appointed home secretary in 2016, said voters wanted those who had the right to reside in Britain to be treated fairly and humanely but also that illegal immigrants be removed.

Sajid Javid, shown at 10 Downing Street in an October 2017 photo, was named as Rudd's replacement. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

Sajid Javid, who has been serving as communities secretary, will replace Rudd.

"The most urgent task I have is to help those British citizens, that came from the Caribbean, the so-called Windrush generation, and make sure that they are all treated with the decency and the fairness that they deserve," Javid told broadcasters.

May's past a present issue

The opposition Labour Party, which had repeatedly called on Rudd to resign, said May was responsible and should explain her own role in the government's immigration policies.

"The architect of this crisis, Theresa May, must now step forward to give an immediate, full and honest account of how this inexcusable situation happened on her watch," said Diane Abbott, Labour's spokesperson on interior affairs.

Abbott called on May to give a statement to the House of Commons explaining whether she knew that Rudd was misleading Parliament about the deportation targets.

Protesters gather for a Windrush demonstration outside the Home Office in London on April 28. The Home Office reportedly destroyed thousands of landing cards documenting the arrival of Windrush-era migrants to Britain, jeopardizing their status in the country. (Andy Rain/EPA-EFE)

Facing questions over the Windrush scandal, Rudd, 54, told lawmakers on Wednesday that Britain did not have targets for the removal of immigrants, but was forced to clarify her words after leaked documents showed some targets did exist.

The Guardian newspaper on Sunday reported a letter from Rudd to May last year in which she stated an "ambitious but deliverable" aim for an increase in the enforced deportation of immigrants.

After repeated challenges to her testimony on the deportation of immigrants, Rudd telephoned May on Sunday and offered her resignation.

"I feel it is necessary to do so because I inadvertently misled the Home Affairs Select Committee over targets for removal of illegal immigrants," Rudd told May.

Commonwealth citizens

The government has apologized for the fiasco, promised citizenship and compensation to those affected, including to people who have lost their jobs, been threatened with deportation and denied benefits because of the errors.

But the controversy over policies which May is closely associated with has raised awkward questions about how the pursuit of lower immigration after Brexit sits alongside the desire to be an outward-looking global economy.

The immigrants are named after the Empire Windrush, one of the first ships to bring Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948, when Commonwealth citizens were invited to fill labour shortages and help rebuild the economy after the Second World War.

Almost half a million people left their homes in the West Indies to live in Britain between 1948 and 1970, according to Britain's National Archives.

A week before local elections, May apologised to the black community on Thursday in a letter to The Voice, Britain's national Afro-Caribbean newspaper.

"We have let you down and I am deeply sorry," she said. "But apologies alone are not good enough. We must urgently right this historic wrong."

May was the longest-serving home secretary in decades, holding the job for six years before becoming prime minister, and some opposition figures have accused her of drawing up overly harsh immigration policies as she promised a "hostile environment" for illegal immigrants.

Rudd becomes the fourth minister May has lost to scandals in the last six months.

The change could also shift the balance over Brexit in May's cabinet. With differences over Britain's future customs arrangement being aired openly, Javid may stand together with more pro-Brexit voices rather than taking the pro-EU stance Rudd adopted.

Javid campaigned to remain in the European Union during the 2016 referendum on the issue, even though a few months before the vote he said his "heart" was for Brexit. After the result, he said: "We're all Brexiteers now."