Mark Harper, the immigration minister, has resigned on discovering that his cleaner was an illegal immigrant. In his resignation letter to David Cameron he said:
“Although I complied with the law at all times, I consider that as Immigration Minister, who is taking legislation through Parliament which will toughen up our immigration laws, I should hold myself to a higher standard than expected of others. I have also considered the impact on my Parliamentary colleagues, the Government and you. I have always believed that politics is a team game, not an individual sport. Under the circumstances, I have therefore decided that the right course is for me to return to the Backbenches. I am sorry for any embarrassment caused.”
The rapidity of his departure, in circumstances where others might well have felt they were justified in trying to hang on, makes it likely, as David Cameron puts it in his reply to the letter, that Harper “will be able to return to service on the Frontbench before too long”.
Here is the full letter, with Cameron’s reply:
Letter from Mark Harper to the Prime Minister
7 February 2014
Dear Prime Minister,
In April 2007 I took on a cleaner for my London flat. In doing so, I was very mindful of my legal and financial obligations and undertook a number of checks beforehand. This included consideration of the HMRC tests as to whether the cleaner was performing her work under a contract for services on a self-employed basis which I concluded she was. However, even though there was no legal requirement for me to check her right to work in the UK, I felt that it was appropriate to do so. I therefore took a copy of her passport to verify her identity and also a copy of a Home Office letter, dated 26 January 2006, which stated that she had leave to remain indefinitely in the United Kingdom, including the right to work and engage in a business.
I considered the issue again when you appointed me as a Minister in the Cabinet Office in May 2010 and concluded that as I had performed a right to work check in 2007 and that my cleaner had indefinite leave to remain in the UK no further check was necessary. When you then appointed me as Immigration Minister in September 2012 I went through a similar consideration process and once again concluded that no further check was necessary. In retrospect, I should have checked more thoroughly.
As I took the Immigration Bill through Parliament in autumn 2013 I talked a lot about these matters in the context both of employers and landlords. What we do, and will, require of both is that they carry out reasonable checks and take copies of documents. We do not require them to be experts or spot anything other than an obvious forgery. Given this focus on these matters, I thought it prudent to check that all my documents were in order for my cleaner. I undertook an extensive search to locate the copies of documents I had taken but unfortunately I was unable to locate them.
As a result, in the week commencing 20 January 2014 I asked my cleaner for further copies of these documents which she provided on 4 February. On 5 February, I asked my private office to check the details with immigration officials to confirm that all was in order. I was informed on the morning of 6 February that my cleaner did not in fact have indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. I immediately notified the Home Secretary and my Permanent Secretary. This is now a matter for Immigration Enforcement.
Although I complied with the law at all times, I consider that as Immigration Minister, who is taking legislation through Parliament which will toughen up our immigration laws, I should hold myself to a higher standard than expected of others. I have also considered the impact on my Parliamentary colleagues, the Government and you. I have always believed that politics is a team game, not an individual sport. Under the circumstances, I have therefore decided that the right course is for me to return to the Backbenches. I am sorry for any embarrassment caused.
I am grateful for the opportunities you have given me since you became Leader of the Conservative Party, first in Opposition and then in Government. I will continue to support you as Prime Minister, the Conservative Party and this Government in whatever way I can from the backbenches. I will also continue to serve my constituents in the Forest of Dean to the best of my ability.
Mark Harper MP
Letter from the Prime Minister to Mark Harper
7 February 2014
Thank you for your letter earlier this evening.
I am very sorry indeed to see you leave the Government, but I understand your reasons for doing so.
In particular, I understand your view that, although you carried out checks on your cleaner, you feel that you should hold yourself to an especially high standard as Immigration Minister. You have taken an honourable decision.
You have been a highly effective Minister in the Government – both most recently as Immigration Minister, overseeing the passage of the Immigration Bill with great skill and dedication, and before that as a Minister in the Cabinet Office. You can be very proud of what you have achieved in Government – and before that in Opposition.
I have always enormously appreciated your energy and your loyalty. It is typical of you that you should be so mindful of the wider interests of the Government and the Party in reaching the decision that you have, and I am very grateful for that.
You will be greatly missed, and I hope very much that you will be able to return to service on the Frontbench before too long.
With all good wishes.