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Amber Rudd faces fresh calls to resign over migrant removal targets

The Home Office was labelled ‘out of control’ in the Commons.

Amber Rudd has faced repeated calls to resign amid claims that her department is “out of control” for using removal targets for illegal immigrants.

The Home Secretary said she never agreed to use removal targets for migrants, adding that those used by her department “were not published targets against which performance was assessed”.

She also said Home Office staff should not follow the approach of going after “low-hanging fruit”, amid concerns that people were detained if they were viewed as easy targets.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott led the latest resignation calls, telling the Commons: “When Lord Carrington resigned over the Falklands, he said it was a matter of honour.

“Isn’t it time that the Home Secretary considered her honour and resigned?”

The SNP’s Alison Thewliss repeated calls for Ms Rudd to leave her post given the “litany of callous incompetence” in the department, as she accused the Tory Cabinet minister of continuing “unabated” the hostile environment policy.

Ms Thewliss said: “This Home Secretary is presiding over a department out of control, marked by cruelty and chaos.

“Will she stop shielding the Prime Minister? Will she do the honourable thing and resign?

Tory former minister Sir Nicholas Soames said Ms Rudd has the “total support” of her party in “trying to resolve a very difficult legacy issue”, while backbench colleague Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, claimed opposition parties are “out of touch” with working-class communities over immigration.

When pressed by Labour’s Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) if she should resign, Ms Rudd replied: “I do take seriously my responsibility but I do think I am the person who can put it right.”

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Amber Rudd took over from Theresa May as Home Secretary in July 2016

At a Westminster lunch shortly after her appearance in the Commons, Ms Rudd declined to say whether she had considered resigning over the Windrush affair.

“I’m committed to making sure I go on and I make these changes,” she said. “It’s been a difficult few weeks but I’m committed to the job.”
 
But she seemed to acknowledge that her personal standing had been hit by the scandal.

Asked whether she regarded herself as a future leadership contender, the Home Secretary said: “I’m pretty much focused on what I have got to do now. I am not thinking about any balls coming out to the boundary, I’m just thinking about staying in the game.”

She said she would “definitely” fight the next general election in her ultra-marginal seat of Hastings and Rye, which she held in 2017 by just 346 votes, rather than seeking a safer berth elsewhere.

Ms Rudd denied she had been used as a “human shield” to deflect criticism over the Windrush cases away from Theresa May. But she did joke that she was unable to take advantage of ministers’ usual first line of defence in a crisis – “blaming your predecessor”.

She said she did not like the phrase “hostile environment”, but said it had first been used by Labour to describe measures to make life difficult for illegal immigrants, before being “expanded” by Conservatives.

She said she hoped to reform the Home Office so that it was more proactive in future on visa cases and established more “personal contact” with individuals caught up in problems with their documentation.

Ms Rudd said she was particularly moved by the “agony” of a Windrush generation man who was unable to visit the Caribbean for his daughter’s wedding because he feared he would not be allowed to return.

“I feel very seriously responsible and involved in what we are going to do about addressing the Windrush crisis, or fiasco – whatever people care to call it,” she said.

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, the Home Secretary earlier told MPs: “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.

“I have asked officials to provide me with a full picture of performance measurement tools which are used at all levels, and will update the House and the Home Affairs Select Committee as soon as possible.”

In a statement later, the Home Office said: “The Home Secretary has asked the Director General of Immigration Enforcement to ensure that local teams do not continue the practice of using targets.”

Ms Rudd denied on Wednesday that targets were used as she was quizzed by a Commons committee probing the Windrush scandal.

But her comments appeared at odds with a 2015 inspection report which said the practice did exist.

An inspection of removals by the borders and immigration watchdog said targets were set in 2014/15 and 2015/16, which were split between 19 Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (Ice) teams across the UK.

The targets, and how they were divided up, were first reported by the BBC.

Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said there appeared to be a “lack of grip” at the Home Office over whether targets were in use.

The Labour MP said she had received evidence of regional targets being used “for some years” and as recently as April, although some had been dropped due to being unattainable.

Following Ms Rudd’s appearance before MPs on Wednesday, the Home Office said it had “never been (its) policy to take decisions arbitrarily to meet a target”.

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