LONDON – Britain’s immigration minister resigned on Saturday after it emerged he had employed a cleaner who was in the country illegally, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said.
Downing Street said there was no suggestion Mark Harper, a junior minister in the Home Office interior ministry, knew the cleaner was an illegal immigrant, adding that the woman had given him false papers.
Harper last year launched a controversial campaign featuring trucks with billboards urging illegal immigrants to go home, while in recent months he had been overseeing the passage of new immigration laws.
Immigration is a key issue for Cameron’s Conservative Party ahead of the next general election in May 2015.
“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,” Harper wrote in his resignation letter to Cameron.
He said that he had employed the cleaner in 2007 after making background checks but did not carry out further checks until last month, despite being appointed minister in 2012.
He then found out on Thursday that the cleaner did not have leave to stay in the country.
“I am sorry for any embarrassment caused,” Harper added.
Cameron said he was “very sorry indeed to see you leave the government” but added that Harper had taken an “honourable decision”.
Junior Home Office minister James Brokenshire was named to replace Harper.
Downing Street said in a statement: “Mark Harper offered his resignation after he was informed that his cleaner did not have indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom, despite having shown him documents claiming she did.
“He immediately notified the prime minister, who accepted his resignation with regret. There is no suggestion that Mr Harper knowingly employed an illegal immigrant.”
It was not immediately clear which country the cleaner was from.
Harper will remain a member of parliament.
- Immigration a touchy issue -
Harper came under fire last year over the Home Office campaign involving mobile billboards telling illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest” and giving them a hotline number to call.
Critics said the campaign was racist.
Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives face a growing electoral threat from the anti-immigration, anti-EU UK Independence Party.
The issue has heated up sharply since Bulgarians and Romanians were given full rights on January 1 to free movement within the European Union, stoking claims in Britain and elsewhere they would take local jobs or abuse the welfare system.
The government’s efforts to push a new immigration bill through parliament have had a bumpy ride, with Conservative rebels saying it does not go far enough despite the inclusion of measures such as stripping naturalised terror suspects of British citizenship.