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UNITED KINGDOM: Resignations: A Commentary

This government is committed to taking action to effectively tackle illegal working. Illegal working encourages illegal immigration, it undercuts legitimate businesses by illegal cost-cutting activity, and is often associated with exploitative behaviour like tax evasion and harmful working conditions.

- Immigration Minister Mark Harper

The circumstances under which Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigned are, to say the least, piquant.

Seven years ago, in 2007, he hired a housekeeper from South America. Although he allegedly requested and received documentation evidencing her permission to work in the UK, it recently came to light that these papers were invalid, and that he had in fact been employing an undocumented worker. Adding to the controversy, Mr. Harper was unable to produce copies of her paperwork to demonstrate that he had undertaken the prescribed status checks.

As a result, Mr. Harper submitted his letter of resignation on February 7, 2014, which was accepted by the Prime Minister.

Beyond the obvious irony that the Immigration Minister was forced from his post because he employed an undocumented worker, this resignation is particularly poignant in light of the new immigration bill that is wending its way through Parliament. In addition to doubling the maximum civil penalties for employers involved in hiring undocumented workers from £10,000 to £20,000, the new bill proposes to oblige banks, private landlords, and driver's licensing authorities to perform mandatory immigration status checks before offering their services.

Cast in a harsh light, and borrowing from his own previous words, Mr. Harper's transgression could be described as the type that "encourages illegal immigration" and "undercuts legitimate businesses." More accurately, however, his actions should be seen as highlighting the onerous nature of the immigration bill's proposed penalties and mandatory checks. Indeed, that the Immigration Minister was unable to follow the very employer protocols that he championed is a clear indication that they are deeply flawed.

Mr. Harper is not the first minister to resign under awkward circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, there is a storied history of ministers falling on their own swords.

In 2004, David Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary following allegations that he had expedited the visa of his ex-partner's nanny. That same year, Beverly Hughes resigned from her post as the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Counter Terrorism after news emerged that she had been aware of fraudulent visa applications from Eastern Europe being granted.

Half a decade later, in 2009, Baroness Patricia Scotland was fined £5,000 and forced to issue an apology for unwittingly employing an irregular migrant as her housekeeper. While she purportedly obtained evidence of her employee's permission to work in the UK, it turned out to be a forgery and she failed to keep copies of the paperwork. Fittingly, when she was a minister at the Home Office, Baroness Scotland had been instrumental in pushing legislation through the House of Lords requiring employers to request and retain copies of immigration status documentation. Despite the controversy, she was not asked, nor did she volunteer, to resign from her position as attorney general, as it was claimed that she did not "knowingly break the law."

It is a truism, but unfortunately not always true, that those responsible for making and implementing policy should have a firm understanding of the areas with which they are charged. In Mr. Harper's case, it is of obvious import that his employee deceived him. And while we do not expect our public officials to be superhuman, we do hold them to a higher standard. Accordingly, Mr. Harper resigned.

But the more pressing issue, indeed the one that suggests he was ill-equipped for the position in the first instance, was his inability to recognize at the outset that the immigration policies he promoted were, and continue to be, detrimental to immigrants, the general public and, as we have seen, the Immigration Minister.

To revel in Mr. Harper's personal defeat would be callous and inappropriate. On the other hand, one cannot help but appreciate the equitably elegant manner in which his fall from bureaucratic grace neatly captured the onerous absurdity of the very policies that he espoused.

Following Mr. Harper's resignation, James Brokenshire, the Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, was appointed Minister for Immigration and Security.

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