Home Office civil servants have been criticised over the support they offered former home secretary Amber Rudd in the days leading up to her resignation, with an official review concluded she was “not supported as she should have been”.
Rudd resigned after telling the Home Affairs Select Committee that there were no targets for deportation of illegal immigrants but her assertion was subsequently revealed to be untrue.
Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam subsequently appointed former Ministry of Justice perm sec Sir Alex Allan to undertake an urgent review of the advice given by civil servants to Rudd.
Although the report was submitted to Rutnam in May, the executive summary of the report has only been published today. It covers the preparation for the select committee hearing on 25 April and the following day's urgent question in the House of Commons, as well as the department’s reaction to leaks to the Guardian that revealed targets did in fact exist.
Allan said preparations for the select committee had not covered removals targets, although he did not find that surprising "given the focus was on Windrush children and the issue of removals targets had not been raised in previous statements and questions”.
However, he said that “officials should have been better prepared to answer questions when the issue was raised”, in particular when it was raised in the session before Rudd’s appearance.
“In preparations immediately before the hearing, the home secretary asked ‘are there removals targets’ and was told ‘no’,” Allen said. “That led to her firm denial (‘we do not have targets for removals’) in the hearing.”
Allan said that he “cannot establish how she was given this reply: the most likely explanation is crossed wires between her special adviser and her private office”.
An official sitting in on the hearing that had preceded Rudd’s appearance emailed the team with the home secretary to highlight that targets had been raised but “the import of this was missed due to misunderstandings amid the pressures of dealing with other urgent issues”, Allan said.
Following Rudd’s answer, Allan found there were “confused email exchanges trying to establish the position on targets”.
“The initial line that there were indeed no targets was undermined when it emerged that there had been a target until a few weeks previously," he said. "It proved impossible to establish a clear answer on whether targets had been allocated out regionally. The home secretary (and Glyn Williams [Home Office DG of borders, immigration and citizenship] who was appearing with her) were never provided with briefing that might have allowed them to put the correct position on the record.”
This amounted to Rudd being “not, therefore, supported as she should have been during the hearing”, Allan concluded.
After the hearing, director general of immigration enforcement Hugh Ind was asked by Rudd to explain the position and initially repeated the line that there were currently no targets, according to Allan. However, when pressed, was not able to bring clarity to the issues being raised, and Allan specifically criticises Ind for his “less than satisfactory performance in his role as director general for immigration enforcement”.
Ind moved from the Home Office to lead the implementation of the Public Sector Apprenticeships Strategy in the Cabinet Office in May, after Rutnam received the report. But a spokesman for the department told CSW at the time that the move was not a result of Allan's report and said Ind was “just moving department”.
Allan also reveals that Rudd prepared for the urgent question in the House of Commons the day after the select committee hearing without officials present as “the home secretary and her special advisers had lost confidence in the official advice coming forward”.
“This was dangerous, and though the UQ session went well in the house, the answer did not deal with the issues around targets as clearly as it could have done,” Allan said.
As well as criticising Ind, Allan said that he would have expected the department’s second perm sec Patsy Wilkinson, as the line manager of Ind “to play a more proactive role”. Wilkinson left the department at the same time as Ind.
However, Allan said that he did not recommend that any investigation for potential misconduct be carried out into any civil servants.
'Wake up call'
Responding to the publication of the executive summary of Allan's report, Rudd said she hoped the document would act as "an incentive and a wake-up call" for sweeping changes at the Home Office, which she said were needed to avoid a repeat of the "appalling" treatment of some members of the Windrush generation.
"It's important to me that people know... that there are changes that needed to take place at the Home Office. And I think that this report will go a long way to making sure that that takes place," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
In a statement, Rutnam said he had "commissioned this internal review to make sure I could be confident that we learnt from what happened in this case and did everything we could to make sure ministers in this department get the best possible advice in future".
He added: "I would like to thank Sir Alex Allan for the thorough and constructive way in which he approached the review – it has undoubtedly helped us to continue to improve the way that we work."