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26 April 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:39am

Did Amber Rudd mislead parliament over deportation targets?

Westminster has seen more flip flopping in the last 24 hours than an Australian beach shop.

By Dulcie Lee

Today is not a good day to be Amber Rudd. Neither was yesterday to be fair… nor the day before that, nor that, nor that

Yesterday, Amber Rudd was summoned to the home affairs select committee to give evidence about the Windrush scandal. And while she successfully avoided blaming her boss for the chaos, she didn’t totally succeed in avoiding the headlines.

Since giving evidence, she’s landed herself in an even bigger mess than before (everything is impossible until it is done). This time, about immigration deportation targets and more specifically, whether the Home Office has used them.

During yesterday’s committee hearing, she told MPs: “We don’t have targets for removals … If you ask me, ‘are there numbers of people we expect to be removed?’, that’s not how we operate.”

But this morning, Sky News had unearthed a 2015 report showing that the Home Office did set a target of 12,000 voluntary departures in 2015/16, up from 7,200 in 2014/15.

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Culture secretary Matt Hancock waded in this morning, telling the Today programme: “As far as I understand it, it has never been Home Office policy to take decisions arbitrarily to meet the target. There are rules around immigration. Immigration needs to be controlled but the rules also need to be fair.”

So there are targets, but decisions aren’t made with the aim of meeting the target? Right.

Unsatisfied by Rudd’s answers yesterday, Diane Abbott tabled an urgent question in the Commons this morning, asking the home secretary to clarify her remarks.

In response, Rudd told the House: “I have never agreed that there should be specific removal targets, and I would never support a policy that puts targets ahead of people.

“The immigration arm of the Home Office has been using local targets for internal performance management. These were not published targets against which performance was assessed, but if they were used inappropriately then I am clear that this will have to change.”

So did she mislead parliament? Well it’s a question of semantics. It depends on whether Rudd interpreted the question yesterday as relating to voluntary deportations. The targets uncovered by Sky relate only to voluntary deporations, so if she understood it to encompass those, then yes, she would be misleading parliament. But she said there were no “targets for removals” – whether “removals” encompasses voluntary deportations is arguable, and gives her much-needed wiggle room. In that, she has plausible deniability.

It’s yet to be seen how she’ll square her assertion that: “If you ask me, ‘are there numbers of people we expect to be removed?’, that’s not how we operate’” with the fact that today she literally admitted that the home office operate using targets. And it’s hard to see how she’ll defend with her contradiction that internal performance targets were not being used to… assess performance?

She hasn’t killed the story that’s for sure, and her answer didn’t satisfy the opposition either, with Labour’s Diane Abbott and SNP’s Alison Thewliss calling on her to resign. But Rudd said she wouldn’t step down because she thinks she is the best person to fix the home office’s problems – and Tory MPs backed her in the debate.

That said, her increasingly exposed lack of knowledge about her own department can’t rumble on indefinitely. She’s going to have to get a grip pretty quickly. If not it might be time for May to set some “internal deportation targets” of her own.

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