MARK Harper will return to a top government job if he is asked to in the future – but for now he is “busy” with grassroots campaigning in the Forest.
The Forest MP admitted he had employed an illegal immigrant as his cleaner while serving as immigration minister – and resigned from the top Home Office position on Saturday.
Speaking to the Citizen in his first interview since resigning, he said: “The fact that my cleaner wasn’t here lawfully, I felt that I should step down. I wanted to go quickly.”
He remains tight-lipped on the background of his cleaner and their forged documents but it is understood they now face deportation following the revelation.
Mr Harper did not rule out a return to the Cabinet, saying: “It is a decision for other people and it is a decision for the future. I have always done whatever job I have been asked to do.
“But for now I will focus on being the best MP I can be for my constituency.”
Mr Harper, who was elected as the Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean in 2005, became immigration minister in 2012 but his role came to a dramatic end at the weekend after he admitted the documentation supplied by the cleaner of his London apartment had been falsified.
There is no suggestion that the 43-year-old knowingly employed an illegal worker, but he himself had urged employers to carry out more rigorous checks on staff.
People who take on illegal workers can face fines of up to £10,000. But Mr Harper said that the Government did not require employers and landlords to be “experts” in spotting anything more than “obvious forgery” in documents they are presented with and that he had “met the requirements” himself.
He has led the Government’s new Immigration Bill which includes measures such as requiring landlords to quiz tenants about their status, some migrants having to pay an NHS surcharge, restricting access to banks, reducing avenues of appeal and increasing fines for illegal working.
Mr Harper has vowed to move on from the scandal – and has announced his unanimous reselection as the candidate for the 2015 general election. He said: “My constituency party have been very supportive. I will fight the general election and hope to hold that seat. We are one year away and have got a big battle.”
Asked how the people of the Forest would react to him employing an illegal immigrant, he said: “I don’t yet know. From the texts and Twitter messages and e-mails that I have received so far, it has been quite positive.
“It was a difficult decision to make. I have been very lucky being a backbencher for only seven months but enjoyed two rewarding jobs in government.
“I have enjoyed what I have done but I didn’t want to make my position a barrier. You need your colleagues and I was mindful of the impact on them. That made the decision easier.”
He says being freed of his ministerial role will give him more time to focus on the Forest and he would “take full advantage”.
Mr Harper said he would focus on the Northern United development, supporting Asda’s plan to open in Cinderford and tackling flooding issues in Lydney as well as cross-border health access.
His cleaner’s illegal status was seen as a massive embarrassment after Mr Harper led the controversial ‘Go Home’ campaign which encouraged people to text in to say they would leave the country.
Mr Harper said new biometric ID cards for new migrants would make it more difficult for his situation to occur again. He said: “It will be much easier to check people's details. My case shows that it is needed.”