Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions saw the Maybot reactivated. Jeremy Corbyn decided to lead the session on the fallout from the Windrush row, widening out his questions to the flaws in the hostile environment policy on illegal immigration, and on who was to blame for these flaws being apparent but not fixed for so long.
The exchanges very swiftly became a ding-dong between May and Corbyn as to whose fault the creation of a hostile environment policy actually was. Corbyn wanted to pin the policy on May, but also demanded that Amber Rudd resign for aiming to harden the policy. His questions were decent, but it was May herself who created the Labour win today, as her answers were terrible. She robotically chanted in answer to a number of questions that ‘the Windrush generation are British’, before insisting that the hostile environment policy was only for illegal immigrants. This makes no sense as the Windrush generation were actually treated as though they were in Britain illegally because the policy was badly designed. The Prime Minister did of course defend the principle of her policy of trying to root out illegal immigrants, but she was unable to explain how this policy was actually working in practice. This suggested that she didn’t understand the problems with the implementation of the hostile environment, which was that it required papers from those who were here illegally yet were highly unlikely to have the documents requested.
As I wrote in the Guardian on Monday, a number of Conservatives believe that this row is really quite small in the scheme of things. But the fact that it is going to run on longer than many of them think was highlighted by two questions later in the session from Labour backbenchers. Yvette Cooper had clearly been very put out by the way May had quoted her talking about the importance of controls on illegal immigration, and had spent the minutes after this trying to catch the Speaker’s eye so she could intervene. When she got her chance, Cooper was furious, telling the Prime Minister ‘do not try to hide behind me or the Labour Party’, and pointing out that May had known about the problems with the policy years before it came to light. She was then shortly followed by David Lammy who raised a case from a few years ago that he had complained to the Home Office about. The Tottenham MP claimed that the immigration minister at the time had responded with a letter that basically amounted to ‘tough’.
After the session, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked about whether the government was going to continue using the term ‘hostile environment’. He himself didn’t use the term while defending the policy itself, but he was also asked whether there would be a wider review to find and prevent similar treatment of Commonwealth nationals who were not part of the Windrush group. That question suggests, too, that this row isn’t going to quieten down yet.