Allies of former home secretary Amber Rudd have today been accused of trying to “smear and blame” Home Office civil servants for her dramatic exit from the Cabinet this week.
Senior Conservatives have pointed the finger at Home Office immigration and enforcement chief Hugh Ind for Rudd’s disastrous performance before MPs last week, when she wrongly claimed the department did not have targets for the removal of illegal immigrants.
Leaked emails passed to The Sun and the Evening Standard show that Ind emailed Rudd to say “there were no targets” both ahead of and during the stormy Home Affairs Committee session last week.
The immigration chief is also said to have sent her a follow-up message saying “there are no removal targets for immigration enforcement officers, regional or national”.
Rudd told the Home Affairs Select Committee last week the department did not have targets for deportation of illegal immigrants, contrary to evidence given earlier to the committee by Lucy Moreton, the general secretary of the immigration workers’ union the ISU. Rudd later told Parliament that the Home Office did use local targets for internal performance management, but that she had been unaware of them.
Rudd subsequently resigned following a series of Home Office leaks to the Guardian, which revealed that information had been provided to her office about the targets.
Former chancellor George Osborne, a close ally of Rudd’s who now edits the Evening Standard, said the “extraordinary” emails should prompt resignations at the Home Office.
This is pretty extraordinary: The Londoner @EveningStandard has seen the completely misleading emails Amber Rudd was getting from her civil servants on targets. Of course Ministers are accountable - and she has resigned. But what about these officials? https://t.co/rdOuUzVVKb
— George Osborne (@George_Osborne) April 30, 2018
A No 10 aide told The Times: “Who was briefing her? How could they not at least have watched the previous testimony?”
However, Labour accused the Conservatives of seeking to pass the buck to officials for the row that engulfed Rudd, who was replaced at the Home Office yesterday by Sajid Javid.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister John Trickett urged prime minister Theresa May to personally intervene and distance herself from the “cynical attempts” to attack staff over the fiasco.
The issue of removals targets was raised as part of the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Windrush children, who came to the UK legally in the 1950s and 1960s but have since been threatened with deportation or denied access to public services because of uncertainty about their immigration status. Trickett claimed that now May "can no longer blame her home secretary for the Windrush mess, the Tories are turning their fire on to the civil servants".
He added: “The roots of the Windrush scandal go back to Theresa May’s time as home secretary – she was the architect of it. So, the prime minister must come forward with a straight and comprehensive account of what she knew of the cruel ‘hostile environment’ policy which was targeting British citizens who have lived here for generations.
“Theresa May said in 2004 that she’s 'sick and tired' of ministers who blame officials when things go wrong. She must condemn outright these cynical attempts by her officials to smear and blame public servants for decisions taken by Tory ministers.”
The row came as former Home Office minister Norman Baker – who served under May as a Liberal Democrat in the coalition government – this morning claimed officials in the department had faced a “culture of fear” during the prime minister’s time at Marsham Street.
“It was a culture of fear, of intimidation for the civil service in particular, who were shouted out – literally – by her special advisers… She got her special advisers to do it, I think largely,” he told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show.
“It was also one where there was a fixed determination to meet the Conservatives’ migration target which I thought, and we thought as Lib Dems, was ludicrous.”
Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, May’s two most senior advisors at the Home Office who moved to No 10 with her in 2016, both quit after the Conservatives lost their majority in last year’s general election.
Both have been criticised for their approach in government, which Sir Leigh Lewis, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, said was government by fear.