Amber Rudd was brought down by her inexperience – not by the Windrush scandal itself

The former home secretary made a mistake while defending her policy, but instead of admitting it she continued to insist that she didn’t know the Home Office had targets for removals – an insistence that became unsustainable

John Rentoul
Monday 30 April 2018 08:36 BST
'We don't have targets for removals': Was this the moment that led to Amber Rudd's resignation?

Amber Rudd could have survived the Windrush scandal. She didn’t resign because she mishandled it. On the contrary, although she had been slow to realise that it was a problem, she was getting to grips with it. She had set up a unit that was working its way through the cases to confirm the right to be in the UK of the Windrush generation and their children.

She had softened the hard edges of Theresa May’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, which had caused the problem in the first place. It was quietly renamed the “compliant environment” policy last year, but Rudd didn’t want to advertise the shift for fear of creating a split with the prime minister.

She need not have resigned because of her mistake at the Home Affairs select committee on Wednesday, either. “We do not have targets for removals,” she said. Who knows what was going through her mind? I suspect it was something like: “The Windrush problem was not caused by our targets.”

I doubt if this is true. It would seem that targets for the number of illegal immigrants removed did put pressure on the system and meant that anyone with incomplete documentation was treated with suspicion. But it would have been a matter of opinion, and Rudd could have pointed to the slight liberalisation of policy she had brought in.

What was certainly not true was that the Home Office doesn’t have targets for removals. Rudd should have said so at once and apologised for her mistake and explained what she meant. Instead, she made the second mistake that led to her resignation and insisted that she didn’t know the Home Office had targets.

That may have been when her inexperience showed. She has been an MP for only six years, and was only briefly in charge of a department – energy and climate change under David Cameron – before being put in charge of the most difficult department of them all.

Presumably it dawned on her that her second mistake was terminal only when she prepared for her statement in the House of Commons today. Looking through the papers, it must have become obvious that she knew the Home Office had targets; that she had set some of them and discussed them with colleagues.

As so often then, it was not the original offence – which was after all Theresa May’s – which cost her her job, but the attempt to tough out a mistake she made in trying to defend a policy that was already changing.

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