Priti Patel: Home Office ‘was uncomfortable’ for me as a BAME person

Home secretary tells peers of difficulties faced joining the department in wake of the Windrush scandal

Priti Patel, the UK’s first female home secretary from a black or minority ethnic background, has said she felt “uncomfortable” when she joined the government department in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

Patel became head of the Home Office in July 2019 after the resignation of Amber Rudd after disclosures by the Guardian about the mistreatment and deportation of legal residents, many of whom came to the UK from the Caribbean decades earlier.

In an appearance before the House of Lords home affairs and justice committee, Patel said she was made home secretary as the department was preparing evidence for Wendy Williams’s Windrush Lessons Learned review of the scandal.

“If I think about Windrush, obviously I walked into a department just as the Lessons Learned report was due to come out. I have my own views quite frankly. I’m an ethnic minority home secretary coming into a department where it didn’t feel that comfortable,” she said.

Patel said she has had “a lot of pushback” while trying to change the culture of the Home Office, which could take years. “This is a very, very long haul,” she said.

She has drawn criticism after claiming at the same hearing that some migrants are attracted to the UK by the prospect of being housed in hotels.

“We have ended up having to put people into hotel accommodation and I’m afraid, I think it’s pretty suboptimal,” said Patel.

“It is counterproductive; I think it has also acted as a pull factor for people to come to the country illegally, thinking that they’re going to end up in hotels.”

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said Patel’s comments bore “little relation to reality”.

“Rather than people being attracted by the idea of living in a hotel, the problems people are experiencing in their lengthy stays in temporary accommodation have been well documented,” he said.

Under questioning from the Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti, Patel also insisted that there is a “legal basis” for turning around small boats at sea.

“None of this is illegal. So let me just emphasise that, none of this is illegal at all,” she said. “We don’t want to see people dying at sea. We want to stop people drowning at sea. I can’t emphasise this enough.”

Senior QCs have argued that Patel’s controversial new borders bill breaches international and domestic law in at least 10 different ways.

Referring to a man who is believed to have gone missing in the sea off the coast of Harwich in Essex, Patel said: “Only yesterday there was a loss of life in the Channel.”


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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