Gordon Brown gave his backing to Baroness Scotland, the attorney-general, on Tuesday morning after she was fined £5,000 for hiring an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper.
But the Tories questioned the prime minister’s judgment given that Baroness Scotland was the minister who steered the relevant law – which makes employers responsible for checking the status of their staff – through the House of Lords.
“After this, we can’t see how Baroness Scotland can credibly stay in her job,” said Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary. “The fact that once again Gordon Brown is dithering over a serious issue affecting his government is yet another sign of the vacuum of leadership in Downing Street. He seems to hope that the problem will just go away.”
Mr Brown said he had consulted the cabinet secretary and decided to draw a line under the affair: “I have concluded that no further action is necessary given the investigation and action that has already been taken by the appropriate authorities and her unreserved apology.”
The attorney-general, who attends cabinet but is not a cabinet minister, had hired Loloahi Tapui as her housekeeper for six months. But it emerged last week that Ms Tapui had overstayed her student visa for five years.
The UK Border Agency accepted that Baroness Scotland had checked her housekeeper’s documents when she hired her. But the body imposed the fine because of her failure to keep any of this relevant documentation.
The penalty was lower than the maximum £10,000 figure which had been predicted in some quarters.
Baroness Scotland issued an apology, saying: “I accept it is my duty to pay the fine and I have done so.”
Her position has been under scrutiny in the days since the story first broke. On Sunday one Labour MP, Graham Stringer, called for her resignation or sacking.
“The whole government is tarnished. People feel the government is passing laws it is not applying to itself,” said Mr Stringer, who is regarded as a regular critic of Mr Brown’s administration.
The UK Border Agency said that Baroness Scotland (Patricia Mawhinney) had co-operated fully with its investigation and it was satisfied that she did not knowingly employ an illegal worker.
“The UKBA is also satisfied that the employer took steps to check documents provided to her as proof of right to work in the UK,” it said. “However, the law requires that employers must keep copies of documents proving the right to work in the UK and in this instance the employer failed to meet this requirement.”
In its statement, it said the case should “remind all employers” that they were responsible for checking the immigration status of their staff and retaining proof of the relevant documents.