“Now James, can you absolutely, positively promise me you’re not inadvertently employing any illegal immigrants?”
“Errr, yes Prime Minister, but why?”
“Promise? Hand on heart?”
“Jolly good. By the way, you’re the new Immigration Minister.”
Mark Harper’s resignation from the role of Immigration Minister over the weekend, after it transpired his Colombian cleaner was not legally entitled to work in the UK, has barely caused a ripple for the government. Whilst immigration now regularly features at the top of the list of people’s concerns in national polling, right now it has been pushed out of the limelight. Government and media attention is totally focused on the much more damaging ripples emanating from the ‘Who’s to blame?’, ‘No-one’s to blame’, ‘Well, no-one’s to blame yet’ game being played out over the floods that continue to threaten homes, businesses, agricultural land and infrastructure across much of the country.
But a Ministerial resignation is a big deal, even in these extraordinary times. Although Mr Harper will probably be best remembered for the ‘Go home’ vans that caused such a furore in the autumn of 2013, most commentators agree he handled his resignation with dignity. The PM’s positive response suggests a future return to government is definitely not off the table.
James Brokenshire’s arrival as his replacement is a real opportunity – for the government to be seen to be tackling this most contentious of election issues with renewed vigour (hugely important in the lead up to the local and European elections in May where UKIP are expected to make strong inroads) – and for various groups with an interest in immigration, passports or UK Border policy. They are now gifted with the opportunity to present their case to a brand new Minister. No doubt his Ministerial inbox will already be bulging.
The floods will eventually recede, Mark Harper will get a new cleaner, and probably a new ministerial role in the not too distant future, and we can expect to see a wave of new government initiatives and stakeholder positioning on the ever headline-worthy issue of immigration.