29 April 2019

After a year as Home Secretary, Sajid Javid is grappling with the same problems that led to his predecessor’s exit – and has made little progress so far in delivering on his promise of reform, argues Joe Owen.

This week marks Sajid Javid’s one-year anniversary as Home Secretary. And, just like his first week in the job, it begins with him dealing with a major scandal in the immigration system.

A year after Amber Rudd quit as Home Secretary over her handling of the Windrush scandal, thousands of students are being wrongly caught up in the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ measures. Fresh reports over the weekend show the extent of the challenge in the department, highlighting poor decision making, undertrained staff and the use of targets – all issues highlighted in our recent report Managing Migration after Brexit.

Sajid Javid declared that his priority as Home Secretary would be "making sure we have an immigration policy that is fair and treats people with respect and with decency". One year on, how much progress has he really made?

Sajid Javid’s first task was Windrush – but that’s still largely unresolved

The Windrush scandal prompted Javid’s move to the Home Office and it was the most immediate crisis for him to deal with. Some British citizens were wrongfully detained and deported, while others faced destitution as a result of hostile environment measures. The Government has admitted the consequences for individuals have been appalling.

Under Javid, the Home Office launched a compensation scheme. This could eventually see up to £570m paid out, but it also led to victims’ personal information being leaked. And although there has been a reduction in numbers deported and detained, there’s little evidence of systemic reform.

That could come after an ongoing independent review into lessons learned is published. But until then, for many individuals caught up in the system, nothing appears to have changed. Some have received a letter of apology from the Home Secretary, but there is nothing else to indicate that the Home Office under Javid has really gripped this issue.

In fact, just six months into post, Javid was already apologising for misleading Parliament on immigration – the formal reason his predecessor resigned. He had assured MPs that DNA testing of applicants was voluntary, only for an internal review to reveal that front-line officials were making it compulsory. His response was to promise another review – this time of Home Office processes and structures. But six months later the promised review has no reviewer, no terms of reference and has seemingly made no progress at all.

The Home Office’s attention is on Brexit, which poses a huge risk to the department

The other major focus of the Home Office has necessarily been Brexit. It has one of the biggest to-do lists of any department and the Home Secretary was the biggest beneficiary of the extra Brexit funds doled out by the Chancellor. The department has made some important progress. Shortly before Christmas, and after 18 months of delay, it finally published its white paper – and the EU Settlement Scheme is now live.

The scheme, which is needed for registering the EU citizens already living in the UK, is the most immediate and most important Brexit job for the department. Designing and building a new scheme in little over two years is a major achievement and one for which the Home Office – and Home Secretary – deserve credit. The difficult part – actually getting the millions of individuals eligible to apply – is still very much to come.

And the risk is enormous. It’s almost certain that there will be tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of EU citizens that do not secure their rights in time. The challenge for the department is whether it can really learn the lessons of Windrush rather than repeat the mistakes.

The Home Secretary must act quickly if he wants to achieve his ambitions for the immigration system

The Home Secretary and his department face a huge task: righting the wrongs of Windrush alongside one of the biggest changes to the immigration system in a generation. Most of the problems are a result of structures, processes and policies that were in place long before the Home Secretary took up the role.

We’ve argued already for major changes to the Home Office, even questioning whether it is the right department to manage immigration policy in the long term.

But the Home Secretary made it his mission to make the immigration system fairer, more humane and – in his words – ‘fit for the modern world’. That must start now with a clear plan for what will change and when. If he wants to be known as a reformer he needs to act, otherwise he will just be someone who launched a few reviews.