A former head of civil service has claimed that some coalition ministers believed Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration crackdown was “reminiscent of Nazi Germany”.
In an extraordinary revelation, Lord Kerslake made clear the unease among politicians and civil servants at the set of policies implemented when May was Home Secretary that have come under scrutiny amid the Windrush scandal.
The phrase ‘hostile environment’ was used by May in a 2012 interview, when she was Home Secretary. It involved legislation and regulation to tackle illegal immigration and help bring immigration to the UK down to tens of thousands a year - a key Tory promise.
Appearing on BBC 2’s Newsnight, Lord Kerslake, head of the civil service between 2012 and 2015, was speaking to presenter Evan Davies about how the civil service gave advice on “some of the challenges of the policies”, especially over taking action against people who are “acting lawfully”.
Asked whether May, then Home Secretary was challenged, Lord Kerslake responded: “It was not just a question of the Home Secretary being told that, the Prime Minister was as well, and this was a very contested piece of legislation across government departments.
“Now, I can’t say, and shouldn’t say, who gave what advice to whom, but what I can tell you is that it was highly contested, and there was some, I shall not name them, saying it was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”
Davies: “In the civil service?”
Kerslake: “Ministers were deeply unhappy.”
Davies: “Deeply unhappy at the policy?”
It is not clear whether either Conservative or Liberal Democrat ministers - or both - raised the alarm over the policy.
It involved migrants having to prove their immigration status when accessing NHS services and housing.
It has been blamed for the risk of deportation being faced by Windrush migrants, who are in the UK legally but sometimes without the paperwork to prove it.