Immigration minister Mark Harper quits. An honourable resignation? Inevitable is nearer the mark

Mark Harper, Conservative immigration minister, today resigned after learning his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK. Here’s how the BBC reports it:

Mr Harper notified Prime Minister David Cameron, who accepted his resignation “with regret”, Number 10 said. It added there was “no suggestion” the 43-year-old Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean had “knowingly employed an illegal immigrant”. Fellow Tory James Brokenshire has been appointed the new immigration minister.

His resignation is being hailed as honourable, though I think inevitable is nearer the mark. There is no suggestion he acted illegally, and in his own version of events he undertook a number of checks to verify his cleaner had the right to work in the UK before employing her.

However, Mark Harper would also have known his position would have been completely untenable. He is, after all, the minister who is not only responsible for immigration, but who is also responsible for introducing a bill which places an obligation on employers and landlords to check the migration status of those they employ and to whom they rent accommodation.

This has been diluted by the Lib Dems, but Mark Harper’s bill would have the effect of potentially making his own actions illegal.

And of course not many employers and landlords are able to ask their private office at Westminster “to check the details with immigration officials to confirm that all was in order,” as Mr Harper was able to do. If he on his own was unable to get to the bottom of his cleaner’s status, how on earth does he expect other people to do so?

Put that together with his personal support of the infamous ‘Go Home’ vans, and it is clear he had no choice but to resign. A quick and peaceful resignation makes it far more likely he will be able to return to office quickly – unlike a long, drawn-out resignation.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • I’ve always thought he presents his brief to maximum effect – in a previous job you could believe that he agreed with Nick Clegg’s constitutional measures.

  • I think it’s worth noting that he says he was not her employer, and I think HMRC guidelines agree.

  • I think that’s the BBC using employed in a day-to-day sense rather than a legal sense (similar to “I’ve employed an accountant to check the figures”)

  • Martin Lowe 8th Feb '14 - 10:31pm

    Mark Harper’s resignation is far too principled for the modern-day Conservative Party. Which makes me smell a rat.

    I suspect something else is at play – stepping down from a ministerial role gives him more time to concentrate on his constituency (which could easily swing back to Labour if you look at the voting history of his Forest Of Dean seat.

  • @Martin Lowe – you mean like Chloe Smith?

  • I think the “honourable” bit was resigning up front rather than after days/weeks of a negative media s**t storm and disingenuous comments, the classic example of which was Steven Byers in 2002.

  • Paul In Twickenham 9th Feb '14 - 9:08am

    I think Stephen Tall has got this right – in this case “honourable” is a euphemism for “well advised”. The opportunity for jokes about this in “8 out of 10 cats have mocked news this week for you” would have meant political death by a thousand quips. The chances of political redemption are inversely proportional to the embarrassment caused to your party.

  • Was national insurance being paid? Did this not lead to a big red light going off in some government department when payments were received for someone working without a visa? Rather than seeking new snooping powers isn’t this a good example of how the government is failing to use information it already has? Rather than making landlords and employees carry information from one branch of the state to another, wouldn’t it make sense for the government to put in place the procedures needed? The reason he is unsuitable to be a minister is that if he is unable to think in terms of the above questions he is not an organisational leader, just a PR man.

  • If Mark Harper had done his own cleaning he would not have had a problem.

  • hitchdmirer 9th Feb '14 - 11:36am

    Let’s try and bring this into the real world…how much was he paying his cleaner? Did he know where she lived, her family situation, her country of origin…..if the answers are minimum wage, hadn’t a clue and the Philippines (substitute Lithuania et al) then why didn’t he look harder? If he didn’t care to look harder then he’s either naïve or lazy or arrogant…resignation followed. Must confess, however, some surprise he just let it go – must have other income sources to go back to an MPs wages – or is he playing the long game (witness those who come back into the fold….non manes LibDems!) Mid you as an Oxford ex KPMG and Intel exec he probably has something to fall back onto. I wouldn’t weep…he isn’t.

  • There is a lot still in the Immigration Bill that is arbitrary and unreasonable. Let’s hope the Lords amend it and that Lib Dem ministers then insist on more changes.

  • Nick Tregoning 9th Feb '14 - 2:16pm

    Mark Harper’s resignation points up the difficulty with this idiot measure. As has been pointed out here, he has resources that the majority of employers and landlords do not. It is for the Border Patrol (or whatever they’re called) to do this job, and it is a disgrace that government is press-ganging members of the public into doing the job for nothing, and applying legal sanctions if they fail. Idiot government can’t measure success as it has no idea how many illegal immigrants there are. If they were truly intending to tackle this problem, then rather than proposing measures to appease the right wing of the Tory Party, and attract UKIP voters, they could try regularising those illegals who have been here for a minimum period. I’m almost certain someone proposed this at the last GE. They were right then. A pity, therefore, that this enlightened solution has been abandoned.

  • David White 9th Feb '14 - 5:29pm

    Poetic justice? Certainly ironic!

  • Mark Harper’s resignation does tend to confirm that Tory Ministers are either disingenuous or inept. Makes no difference really, they don’t deserve to hold office either way.

  • The government doesnt provide a facility to check whether people are legally allowed to work here. They should think about that rather than daft go home vans. For championing imbecilic policies he deserves to go. That he was a hypocritical muppet doubly so.

  • John Tilley points out the obvious; a shocking habit, and one doubtless ill-received by those who’ve had a lifetime of expensive training in ignoring it.

  • If we were to regularise all of those currently illegally in the UK, would that in fact allow them to earn at least the minimum wage, and thereby help to alleviate the cost of living crisis that Labour repeatedly highlight?

  • Leviticus18_23 9th Feb '14 - 9:48pm

    Give it six months and he’ll be back like nothing happened.

    It’s far less of a sin than expenses and will be forgotten in a netter of weeks.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Feb '14 - 10:26pm

    Mark Harper’s Immigration Department is still busily wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds every week pursuing people who will win their case if it ever gets to court, rather than prioritising the hundreds of thousands of cases where the individuals have no real claim to be in the country. The papers on these latter cases are probably sitting in black plastic sacks in a cellar somewhere. Leaving enough of these latter ‘winnable’ cases alone for long enough and you have to give up on them because you cannot win them in court any more and the illegal become legal. Simples! 🙁

  • I suppose one thing in MArk Harper’s favour is that whilst he finally made use of his position to get a background check on his cleaner, he didn’t abuse his position like David Blunkett…

  • I think Stephen Tall has this exactly right. The phrase “hanged by his own rope” comes to mind. The Conservatives have managed this very well indeed – eliciting sympathy for the “honourable” resignation.

    But in truth, this case shows just how stupid are the immigration rules favoured by Mark Harper. If the minister responsible can’t reasonably comply, given the resources he has to hand which others don’t, then what hope for all other employers?

  • Immigration has been a shambles for years. I recall trying to ascertain the immigration status of individuals in legal proceedings in the 1990s, and Lunar House was never able to oblige. One might as well have contacted the Moon.

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