LONDON, (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a former banker of South Asian origin as interior minister today, trying to draw a line under an immigration scandal threatening her authority as she negotiates Brexit.
Sajid Javid, the son of immigrants from Pakistan, replaces Amber Rudd, who quit as Home Secretary after acknowledging she had “inadvertently misled” parliament by denying the government had targets for the deportation of illegal migrants.
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.
Javid, the first lawmaker from Britain’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community to become interior minister, tried before his appointment to defuse public anger over the scandal by saying his own family could have been caught up in it.
His appointment could change the balance of May’s top team in negotiating Britain’s departure from the European Union in March 2019.
Rudd was one of the most outspokenly pro-European members of May’s cabinet. Javid was a lukewarm campaigner to stay in the bloc and has said the referendum result in 2016 meant that “in some ways, we’re all Brexiteers now”.
“We are going to have a strategy in place … about making sure that we have an immigration policy that is fair, it treats people with respect and with decency, and that will be one of my most urgent tasks,” Javid told Sky News.
A spokesman for May said Javid, who had been minister for housing, communities and local government, “is one of the most experienced ministers around the cabinet table”.
“At housing he has proved his drive, his ambition and determination to get to grips with difficult subjects, and these are abilities which will all be required at the Home Office.”
“CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR”
Javid seemed to set out his stall for the job in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper when he described his response to the scandal.
On learning about the treatment of the post-war migrants, he said: “I thought that could be my mum … my dad … my uncle … it could be me.”
But he also called on voters gearing up for local elections on Thursday, when the Conservatives could lose councils in London, to look at the government’s attempts to “put things right” and its efforts to “deal with the injustices in society”.
One senior Conservative source had a warning for Javid: “Careful what you wish for.”
Britain’s interior ministry, or Home Office, is known in government as one of the toughest departments to lead, charged with immigration, the police and security at a volatile time of public spending cuts, Islamist attacks and Brexit talks.
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 lasted only 22 months, becoming the fourth minister May has lost to scandals in the last six months.