Suella Braverman is planning to abandon several of the key commitments made in the wake of the Windrush scandal as the UK government prepares to implement hardline promises to fast-track the detention and removal of migrants.
Sources told the Guardian that the home secretary has dropped a pledge to create the post of a migrants’ commissioner, who was due to be responsible for speaking up for migrants and for identifying systemic problems within the UK immigration system.
Another promise to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) has also been abandoned, as work on the post-Windrush reform programme is downgraded.
The recommendations were accepted three years ago by the government after a formal inquiry by Wendy Williams examined the scandal under which the Home Office erroneously classified legal residents, many of whom arrived from Caribbean countries as children in the 1950s and 60s, as immigrants living in the UK illegally.
The recommendations would have intensified independent scrutiny of Home Office policies on migration, days after Rishi Sunak staked his political future on plans to curb irregular migration to the UK.
In his first major speech of 2023 laying out five key pledges, the prime minister said on Wednesday: “We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally you are detained and swiftly removed.”
Officials have also discarded a commitment to run a series of reconciliation events that were due to be attended by senior Home Office staff and ministers during which members of the Windrush generation would have been invited to “articulate the impact of the scandal on their lives”.
A Whitehall source said the decision to drop Williams’ recommendations was supported by Downing Street and was meant to curb potential critics of Sunak’s flagship policy.
“The home secretary is doing what is necessary to make sure everything is done to stop the boats. The Williams review is not set in stone,” the source said.
A Home Office source said Braverman had expressed a desire to move on from the Windrush clean-up exercise when she took office in autumn last year, and hoped to quietly wrap up work on the reform initiatives.
“I think there’s a feeling that Windrush was a bit toxic. The current home secretary seems to be saying ‘this has nothing to do with me and anyway it’s all fixed now’,” the source said
The former home secretary Priti Patel made a firm promise to introduce all 30 recommendations made by Williams in 2020, who listed in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review the precise steps the department needed to take to avoid any repeat of the scandal.
An announcement is due to be made next week, revealing that 28 of the 30 recommendations were being formally “closed”, even though several have not been completed.
Three recommendations have been marked “discontinued”: recommendations nine (the migrants’ commissioner) and three (the reconciliation events), and recommendation 10, which would have strengthened the role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, giving the body “more powers with regard to publishing reports”.
Williams’ review also wanted to force ministers to either implement the inspectorate’s recommendations or explain why not. At present, it is the only government inspectorate that cannot decide when its reports are published and instead relies upon the home secretary’s discretion.
Since the current chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, was recruited two years ago, only one out of 23 reports has been published within an agreed eight-week window. A key report that exposed security breaches at Dover was published 13 weeks late, shortly before summer recess.
The Home Office’s compensation team will continue to process claims, and is not affected by the decision to wind down the lessons learned reform project.
As a result of Home Office errors, thousands of UK residents who had travelled legally to Britain in the 50s and 60s, were told wrongly that they were immigration offenders, with catastrophic consequences.
In a review of the Home Office’s progress towards fulfilling these commitments published last March, Williams said only eight of the 30 recommendations had fully been implemented and concluded that the department had broken its commitment to introducing comprehensive cultural reform.
Anthony Bryan, 64, who was wrongly held in immigration detention for five weeks and booked by the Home Office on a flight to Jamaica, the country he left when he was eight in 1965 and had not visited in 50 years, said he was disappointed that commitments had been dropped.
“I think they want to forget this ever happened,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson was invited to comment on the substance of what several sources have told the Guardian, but declined, saying the department did not comment on leaks.
A statement said: “We have already made good progress against the recommendations, including establishing the Office for the Independent Examiner of Complaints and appointing an independent examiner, and as of the end of October 2022 had paid out or offered £59.58m on compensation claims.
“We know there is more to do. Many people suffered terrible injustices at the hands of successive governments and we will continue working hard to deliver a Home Office worthy of every community we serve.”