Theresa May was two years into her job as home secretary when she told the Telegraph in 2012 her aim “was to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.
Only May can say whether she knew then the “hostile environment” strategy – essentially empowering figures across society to become immigration enforcement officers – would evolve into to a catch-all brand for her approach to migrants, illegal or otherwise. Because “the hostile environment” came to encapsulate not just her approach to illegal immigration but to reflect a broader rancour towards migrants in the UK.
This peaked with the Windrush scandal; the hostile environment has been squarely blamed for the desperate circumstances in which people who had the right to be in the UK found themselves.
The Guardian has spoken to senior figures who worked within and alongside the Home Office – including former immigration enforcement chiefs – to seek an industry view as to what went so terribly wrong.