Bernard Trafford: Immigration Minister shows rare example of decency

Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigned from his post at the weekend - a rare case of leading by example believes Bernard Trafford

Ian Nicholson/PA Wire Immigration Minister Mark Harper who resigned from the post
Immigration Minister Mark Harper who resigned from the post

Minister takes honourable course and bows out.” There’s a headline you don’t often see! But it’s actually happened: Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigned at the weekend after admitting that he had been employing a cleaner who was in Britain illegally.

Harper hadn’t broken any laws: he’d been misled about the woman’s right to live and work in Britain. In fact, it’s clear that he went to quite some lengths over the years to check his employee did have the right to work here. But he wasn’t sufficiently thorough, and got it wrong. Feeling that, as Immigration Minister, he should live up to higher standards than the rest of us, he decided to do the honourable thing and tendered his resignation.

Well done, then, Mark Harper, a rare example in our modern political world of someone having the decency to fall on their sword when they’ve got something wrong. He’s covered himself in glory of sorts, rather more glory indeed than the political heavyweights seen in considerable numbers in the last few days, but rather too late, paddling around in their wellies, making sympathetic noises about those flooded out of their homes and farms and, in rare cases, finally declaring that they are going to do something about it.

Until now most people in charge of floods and the environment have demonstrated all the effectiveness of a chocolate teapot.

It remains to be seen whether the Environment Agency will get around to dredging rivers in order to reduce flood risks, and not just in the south: last Friday’s columnist, David Banks, claimed Northumberland’s Till river is almost as much in need of dredging as the Somerset rivers: it certainly floods much of the farmland in the Milfield Plain.

The Immigration Minister’s resignation raises questions. Clearly a busy man such as Mark Harper wasn’t as thorough as he might have been.

Does that put him at fault? I’m not convinced it does.

For goodness sake, it was one cleaner, a pretty informal arrangement!

New, tougher immigration laws will place additional obligations on employers and landlords to complete immigration checks. What’s new? Over the past 20 to 30 years governments of all colours have deftly passed on countless jobs to employers rather than carrying out their own checks. Schools, factories, businesses of all kinds, shapes and sizes nowadays deal with an enormous regulatory burden.

Many resent this. They’re doing the government’s job for it, at their considerable expense.

Just to cope with that imposition, many medium-sized employers now retain full-time compliance officers in order to produce the government-required paperwork.

It adds nothing to their business: neither creates additional employment nor increases the profit margin; generates no more revenue.

I run an organisation that on its scale might be classed as an SME. Like other CEOs running businesses of all sorts and sizes I watch in dismay as lazy government shrewdly cuts its administrative costs by shoving the tasks on to us: it passes the buck, with frequently fearsome penalties if we fail to meet its requirement and deadlines.

If middle-sized employers find it a burden, how can small business keep up? It’s bad enough for a small retailer trying to keep on top of the VAT returns (still, it all makes work for accountants), without getting tied up in immigration checks.

We need shopkeepers selling things: schools focusing on teaching; service providers delivering services; manufacturers making stuff. Government does a great job of distracting us from our core purposes.

As for the individual who may employ a single cleaner, Mark Harper is an example to us all: not in his rare and honourable behaviour, but in the fact that the ex-minister is one of us.

He’s proved himself an ordinary bloke who couldn’t handle the tiresome paper-chase on top of a busy day job.

To err is human. Just for once, an errant politician has demonstrated his humanity. Good for him.

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