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

by Stephen Tall on February 8, 2014

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 Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.