Why and when was the Budd inquiry set up?
Why and when was the Budd inquiry set up?
Last month, after claims emerged that David Blunkett, the then home secretary, intervened to "fast-track" the visa application of Leoncia Casalme, nanny to his former lover, Kimberly Quinn.
Sir Alan Budd's remit was to "inquire into the handling by the Home Office of the application for indefinite leave to remain, made by Leoncia Casalme in April 2003". At the time, Mr Blunkett strenuously denied interfering in the claim. He said: "It is right to lay this accusation to rest." Tony Blair insisted his friend and ally would be exonerated, while the Conservatives raised fears that it would be a whitewash.
How did Sir Alan Budd go about his inquiry?
Over nearly three weeks he interviewed Mr Blunkett, Home Office officials and 22 officials in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) at Croydon, south London.
He also interviewed the heavily pregnant Mrs Quinn, who was in hospital at the time, and Ms Casalme. Sir Alan said he carried out his investigations "under great pressure of time and under the spotlight of publicity". His 44-page report was published at noon yesterday.
What were his crucial conclusions?
The nanny's visa was indeed "fast-tracked", with 52 days from Ms Casalme posting it to her receiving her passport; the average period for assessing applications at the time was 172 days. There was a clear "chain of events" connecting Mr Blunkett to the acceleration of the application for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in Britain.
What was the sequence of events over the visa?
Ms Casalme, nanny to the boy Mr Blunkett believes he fathered, applied for ILR on 17 March. Mr Blunkett said his private secretary obtained a blank form for him which he passed on to Mrs Quinn. But she said Ms Casalme or her sister downloaded the form from a computer, a version that Sir Alan says "on balance" he believes.
On 23 April, after examination by IND officials, the form was returned to her with a warning that it could take up to a year to process. The nanny showed the letter to Mrs Quinn, who says she passed it to her lover on 28 April. Mrs Quinn claimed Mr Blunkett said: "I will take care of this." He conceded he may have used such words, but was referring to "his general awareness of the backlog problems at IND and the exercise to reduce them".
Sir Alan believes he probably forwarded the letter to his office the next day in one of the large padded envelopes he uses instead of traditional red boxes. It has still not been established when it arrived in the Home Secretary's office. His private office raised the case with the IND and Ms Casalme's case was retrieved on 2 May. Her application approved four days later.
What did Sir Alan discover about the contacts between Mr Blunkett's office and the IND in the crucial period?
There were as many as four faxes and three telephone calls between 29 April and 2 May. Sir Alan also says there were meetings at the time at which Mr Blunkett might have raised the Casalme case, although he does not recall doing so.
Two e-mails were uncovered by the IND's security and anti-corruption unit. The first, sent on 8 May from Mr Blunkett's office to Bill Jeffrey, the IND's director general, read: "Just wondering if you have any update on the settlement (domestic worker) case I faxed through to you the other day?" The next day, IND replied: "Sorted - she has been granted ILR - papers will be sent to her shortly. The case was in ICU [Initial Consideration Unit], so they pulled it out of the queue and made a decision - (no special favours, only what they would normally do - but a bit quicker)." These e-mails forced Mr Blunkett's resignation.
What prompted these exchanges?
The great unanswered question of the Budd inquiry. The fax referred to in the 8 May e-mail has never been found, which has aroused Opposition suspicions of a cover-up. But Sir Alan said: "I do not believe there was any attempt to destroy, conceal or withhold documents or withhold documents or information that was relevant to my inquiry."
Mr Blunkett's private secretary for immigration told Sir Alan she could not remember why she sent the fax and e-mail to IND. Nor did she believe she was aware of the nanny's name.
Sir Alan said: "I have no reason to believe that those who have spoken to me are concealing anything from me."
How can he so sure there was no cover-up?
Not clear, given that crucial paperwork that should be in the Home Office and IND either never existed or went missing.
What possible explanations are there for Mr Blunkett's office's intervention?
Either that Mr Blunkett was seeking special help for Mrs Quinn's nanny or he was raising the case as an instance of IND's poor performance.
Sir Alan says: "I do not have direct evidence that allows me to choose between the two possibilities." If the latter, more benign, explanation is the case, Sir Alan says he should nevertheless have declared his interest. Sir Alan says: "Once Ms Casalme's case was raised with IND by Mr Blunkett's private office, it was treated by IND as a case to be looked into. It was looked into and the decision was changed, to Ms Casalme's benefit."
Why did no one remember the exchanges?
A good question. Mr Blunkett's principal private secretary and his private secretary for immigration "thought they could recall something like this occurring but neither of them has a clear memory". The Conservatives said last night the Home Office appeared to have suffered a case of "collective amnesia".
Why, in particular, did Mr Blunkett forget the crucial events?
Extraordinary, given his reputation for having a recall like a steel trap, producing long-forgotten facts from distant months. Even more extraordinary, given that this case related to the woman looking after the boy he believed was his.
How does Sir Alan's account differ from Mr Blunkett's previous versions of events?
When the fast-tracking claim emerged, Mr Blunkett insisted he simply checked the application was in order before returning it. The Home Office later added that he probably took the form to his office where a senior official read it to him.
That remained his line until his resignation. Sir Alan says: "One might ask why the Home Office appeared to accept this story ... when neither Mrs Quinn nor Ms Casalme, when I interviewed them, suggested that this happened."
How much difference did the intervention make?
At the time of Ms Casalme's visa application, the typical processing time was 172 days, so it could have cut her wait by about four months.
Sir Alan says the initial decision not to grant it was "marginal", as was the subsequent decision to approve it. He says: "In effect the application was moved from one side of the margin to the other."
HOW THE MAIN PLAYERS EMERGE
The feeling at Westminster yesterday was that Mr Blunkett would have had to resign after the publication of the Budd report if he had not pre-empted it by quitting a week ago. Sir Alan's finding that there was a "chain of events" linking Mr Blunkett to the speeding-up of the residence visa granted to Leoncia Casalme, the nanny of his former lover, Kimberly Quinn, was damaging to the former home secretary. It also blew a hole in Tony Blair's prediction that his close ally would be "exonerated" by the inquiry.
Despite that, Downing Street said last night that Mr Blair was sticking by his statement last week that Mr Blunkett had left office with his integrity intact. Labour insiders believe the Budd report is not so bad for Mr Blunkett that it would stop the Prime Minister implementing his plan to give him a role in the campaign for the general election, expected next spring. "But he will have to sort out his private life first," one said. Mr Blair would also consider recalling him to the Cabinet after the election, if Labour retains power.
Whether a return to frontline politics would be welcomed by his former cabinet colleagues is another matter. Several, including John Prescott and Jack Straw, were incensed by Mr Blunkett's candid criticisms of them in interviews he gave to his biographer, Stephen Pollard. Ministers and many Labour MPs had lost confidence in Mr Blunkett before Sir Alan uncovered evidence that proved his initial version of events was misleading.
But Mr Blair is said to be appalled that senior ministers withdrew their support. Although Labour MPs were sympathetic when Mr Blunkett made a tearful exit last week, some hardened their views about him amid allegations that there was an attempt to conceal the truth from the inquiry.
Their fears may not be fully allayed by Sir Alan's finding that there was no such conspiracy. Mr Blunkett said he fully accepted Sir Alan's findings. He insisted that he had told the truth at all times and, despite his reputation for having a forensic memory, said he had failed to recall some details of the case - notably, that he had passed to his private office a letter warning that the nanny's application could take up to a year.
The Spectator publisher, pictured with her husband Stephen above, can feel vindicated over her initial claim, made in an e-mail leaked to The Sunday Telegraph on 28 November, that Mr Blunkett fast-tracked the visa application by her nanny. The report reveals that she provided further evidence of Mr Blunkett's involvement. She quotes him as saying that the nanny "really should pipe down. We've made the calls, I'll make them again." The former home secretary denied saying he had made such calls. But Mrs Quinn may have won a pyrrhic victory. Her friends say she did not want to force Mr Blunkett from office - now he will have more time to pursue his legal action for access to her two-year-old son, whom he claims he fathered.There is speculation that she may return to her native America after last weekend's revelation that she was also having an affair with the journalist Simon Hoggart at the same time as Mr Blunkett.
SIR ALAN BUDD
Unveiling his report yesterday, the former Treasury adviser said it could not be judged the "whitewash" that some had predicted because Mr Blunkett resigned. "I don't believe that's what Mr Blunkett thought it was when I reported my findings to him," he said. At his press conference, Sir Alan admitted that he had failed to discover whether instructions were given about Ms Casalme's application by Mr Blunkett's private office.He played a straight bat when faced with tricky questions that he judged beyond his brief, such as whether Mr Blunkett was fit to return to the Cabinet. Critics saw his fence-sitting on Mr Blunkett's precise involvement as a sign that he was a "safe pair of hands" drafted in by Mr Gieve, with whom he had worked at the Treasury. But his defenders said that the critics had been proved wrong; the inquiry, after all, had claimed the scalp of the man forced to order it.
The permanent secretary at the Home Office survived the inquiry without the personal criticism that some observers expected. He will be relieved that Sir Alan Budd found no evidence of a cover-up of Mr Blunkett's involvement in the visa granted to the nanny of his former lover.
Such a finding could have brought an abrupt end to his civil service career. Doubts remain about the inability of officials in Mr Blunkett's private office to remember the details of the case. Mr Gieve said that there were "lessons to be learnt" from the affair and issued new guidelines for all Home Office staff.