Former PM May was Home Secretary in the coalition Government when the infamous vans policy was rolled out.
Vehicles marked with signs asking “are you in the UK illegally?” and warning “go home or face arrest” were deployed across London.
The posters on the vans depicted a person with a Home Office badge holding out a pair of handcuffs under the message:
”In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention.”
The plan, part of the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, faced criticism for it’s ‘xenophobic’ message.
Speaking on the ‘The Rest is Politics’ podcast, hosted by former Labour press secretary Alastair Campbell and ex Tory minister Rory Stewart, May admitted that the policy was “wrong” and said that the Government “should not have done those”.
But she also defended the controversial ‘Brexit Bus’ which carried the slogan: ”We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead”.
Many ‘Remainers’ claim the figure was an exaggerated lie but May now says the actual figure may have been more – not less.
Asked about the ‘Go Home’ vans, May said: “I think the vans were wrong. Very clear about that. We should not have done those vans.
“I don’t think it was because the debate had become toxic, I think it was because there was a real sense that something had to be done in relation to illegal migration.
“One of the elements was trying to encourage those who had come to the UK illegally to ‘fess up’. But that was a step too far.”
The comments are the first time May has admitted the policy was wrong. Talking about the Brexit bus slogan, she said: ”’When I look back at the referendum, you mentioned Boris Johnson as an individual who’d led the Brexit campaign.
”I don’t see the vote so much as being about an individual or about the figure on the side of a bus – and that was a figure it was claimed that the extra money could go in the NHS.
”As it happens when I put the extra money into the NHS I think I’m right in saying it was slightly more than was on the figure on the side of the bus.”
She also said she was ”deeply sorry” for the Windrush scandal. She told the pod: “I think one of the first things I would say in relation to the immigration issue is about fairness.
“There are many people who have come to the United Kingdom, they’ve migrated to the UK by following the rules, come here perfectly legally – sometimes it’s taken them some time to do that.
“They’ve had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get their visas and their right to remain here and so forth.
“It’s not fair to them that there are people who can come here illegally and live the same sort of life, and carry on living the same sort of life for many years.
“It is that which lies at the heart of the issue, of trying to take action in relation to those who live here illegally.
“I’m deeply sorry that there was this group of people, the Windrush generation, who got caught up in that, and who we did not at any stage realise or understand could get caught up in it.”
The podcast is available on Monday wherever you download your podcasts or here: therestispolitics.