Prime Minister Theresa May has said sorry to Caribbean leaders over the Windrush generation immigration controversy.
May offered the apology at a Downing Street meeting with Commonwealth leaders as questions swirl over whether the Home Office has a grip on the unfolding scandal.
May told the summit of leaders: “I want to dispel any impression that my Government is in some sense clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean.
“I take this issue very seriously. The Home Secretary apologised in the House of Commons yesterday for any anxiety caused. And I want to apologise to you today. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused.”
She added: “Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years have the right to remain in the UK.
“As do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later, and I don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom.”
May said the Home Office had begun to demand documentation after reforms to access to the NHS.
She said: “This issue has come to light because of measures that we introduced recently to make sure that only those with a legal right to live here can access things like the NHS.
“And this has resulted in some people who - through no fault of their own - has resulted in some people now needing to be able to evidence their immigration status.
“And the overwhelming majority of the Windrush generation do have the documents that they need, but we are working hard to help those who do not.”
After the meeting Jamaican PM Andrew Holness said he accepted May’s apology, stating: “I believe that the right thing is being done at this time.”
Asked if he was satisfied that nobody had been deported as a result of UK paperwork issues, he said: “I asked the direct question of the Prime Minister, she was not able to say definitively that that was not the case.”
Holness said he did not know how many people had been affected by the controversy, but it was “at least” in the hundreds.
Asked if May was to blame for the situation, he said: “I can’t answer that question. The truth is that she has said there has been a policy change, that this was an unintended consequence.
“As Caribbean leaders we have to accept that in good faith.”
It has emerged this week that thousands who answered the post-World War II call to come to the UK to work in essential services are being denied access to state healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.
Despite living in the UK for decades, many Commonwealth migrants were accused by the Home Office of not having the proper documentation in a move branded “shameful” by MPs across the Commons on Monday.
It came as Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said the Government was still not sure if any migrants have been wrongly deported as Whitehall staff were frantically checking records.
The case of 35-year-old Mozi Haynes, a Windrush Briton, who is said to be facing imminent deportation has been raised with the Home Office.
He said: “The Prime Minister must act urgently to halt this deportation and all other Windrush deportations.
Heads must roll over this and the Home Secretary and Immigration Minister must consider their positions. Labour MP David Lammy
“Heads must roll over this and the Home Secretary and Immigration Minister must consider their positions.”
Nokes, meanwhile, rushed to reassure 12 Caribbean countries with a letter, written alongside Lord Ahmed, setting out the Government’s position.
According to the PM’s Official spokesman, the letter says: “The Government recognises and celebrates the contribution that this group of people has made to this country and very much regret that any anxiety and uncertainty over their status may have caused.
“We recognise that some individuals may be worried about costs or their immigration status and what the consequences of coming forward would be for them and their relatives.
“I wish to reassure you and them on both of these points. First it is our intention that no individual should be left out of pocket as they go through this process and given the uniqueness of the situation this group find themselves they will not pay for this documentation.
“Secondly, we would also like to reassure you that there will be no removals or detentions as part of any assistance to help these citizens get their proper documentation in place.”
We would also like to reassure you that there will be no removals or detentions as part of any assistance to help these citizens get their proper documentation in place. Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes writes to Caribbean leaders
But questions remain over whether the Government has a grip on the issue.
Lidington told reporters on Tuesday that, while ministers were not aware of any deportations, he could not be sure.
There had been confusion after immigration minister Caroline Nokes appeared to suggest that some individuals may already have been deported in error.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who offered an apology to Windrush migrants on Monday, told MPs she was not aware of any specific cases.
Lidington told BBC Radio 4′s Today on Tuesday: “I talked to the Home Secretary about this last night and the position is that we have no information.
“We don’t know of any cases where someone has been deported from this category.”
He added that Whitehall staff were searching records to see if anything had gone “appallingly wrong in that way”
Asked if he was ashamed of how the Government had dealt with the Windrush generation issue, Lidington later told Sky News: “I think it’s clear it’s been badly handled.
“And the Home Secretary was right to make a full apology on behalf of, not just her department, but the Government as a whole.
“This should not have happened.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has told her Jamaican counterpart, Andrew Holness, his country is Britain’s “key partner in the Caribbean”, and how there are “great opportunities” to enhance the partnership between the two countries.
During bilateral talks inside Downing Street on Tuesday, she said: “It is about business, it is also about people and I think that is, as we have just said, important links.”
Sat in the white room of Number 10, with both their respective flags behind them, Prime Minister Holness told Mrs May that he saw the meeting as a chance to “strengthen and possibly reset” the relationship.
“Sometimes, these ties - though they bind us together - sometimes they wane. Sometimes they don’t get the attention, so I see this as a great opportunity for us to rebuild the relationship to strengthen,” he said.
Holness said he is looking forward to discussing the traditional areas of security and economic trade, as well as new areas such as climate change and migration.
“All these are issues that I think we have enough common grounds on which to come up with workable solutions,” he added.