Amber Rudd has been accused of not taking the issue of an apparently unseen memo over “enforced” migrant returns seriously enough by opposition MPs who have called on her to resign.
The Home Secretary has been under increased scrutiny in the wake of the recent Windrush scandal after leaked documents suggested she had lied about being unaware of targets for removing illegal immigrants.
Labour and the SNP stepped up calls for her resignation but, in a series of late night tweets on Friday, Ms Rudd said that although her office had been copied in to the document she did not see it herself.
She had originally claimed not to have seen a memo outlining targets of 12,800 “enforced returns” of illegal immigrants in 2017-18.
But the Guardian revealed it had been copied to Ms Rudd as well as to Brandon Lewis, the then immigration minister, and a number of senior officials and special advisers.
Ms Rudd apologised for not being aware of the targets and said she would be making a Commons statement on Monday to address the “legitimate questions” which had been raised.
Her assertion that she did not see the memo is crucial as, under the Ministerial Code, any minister who “knowingly” misleads Parliament is expected to resign.
However, it leaves her exposed to criticism that she has lost her grip on her department at a time when she was already under fire over her handling of the Windrush scandal.
Downing Street said she had the “full confidence” of the Prime Minister.
However, Labour said she was only being kept on to protect Theresa May who – as home secretary under David Cameron – was the architect of the “hostile environment” strategy for illegal immigrants which, it says, has led to some who were entitled to be in the country being threatened with deportation.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the BBC Radio 4 programme: “I am just surprised that she doesn’t seem to take the issue seriously enough to offer her resignation.
Ms Abbott said it was the decision to set a “broad numerical target” for removals which had contributed to a situation where Commonwealth citizens who came to Britain in the decades after the Second World War were being wrongly told to leave.
“It wasn’t saying, for instance, we have to have a target for deporting former criminals. The danger is that that very broad target put pressure on Home Office officials to bundle Jamaican grandmothers into detention centres,” she said.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove led the defence of Ms Rudd, saying she was “a highly talented and highly effective minister” and accused Labour of trying to “weaponise” the issue.
“When documents that should be placed in front of a Home Secretary aren’t then placed in front of a Home Secretary, that is sad, that is regrettable,” he told the Today programme.
“But she was very clear both in her apology and also in the fact that this specific document wasn’t placed in her box, wasn’t brought to her attention.”
Justice Secretary David Gauke said Ms Rudd was an “excellent” Home Secretary who had accepted she made a mistake.
The internal Home Office document, seen by The Guardian, refers to “a target of achieving 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18”, adding “we have exceeded our target of assisted returns”.
It goes on to refer to the progress that had been made towards achieving a 10 per cent increase in performance on enforced returns “which we promised the Home Secretary earlier this year”.
Ms Rudd had initially denied the Home Office had targets for removals when she was questioned on Wednesday by a Commons committee investigating the Windrush fiasco.