Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis has said he did tell Amber Rudd about the “overall ambition” to increase the number of people deported from the UK.
But defending the home secretary, the former immigration minister said on Sunday that was different to the specific “internal targets” in the Home Office that Rudd claimed she did not know about.
Rudd remains under pressure to resign in the wake of the Windrush scandal and will face MPs in the Commons on Monday.
On Thursday, the home secretary told the Commons that while the Home Office did have deportation targets – she was not aware of them.
Rudd had initially unequivocally claimed her department had no targets at all.
“We don’t have targets for removals,” she told the home affairs committee.
Lewis said in her answer to MPs on the committee, Rudd was talking about “Key Performance Indicators” for local immigration officers - not the “overall target” to increase deportations by 10%.
“What the home secretary was very aware of was her ambition to see an increase in the number of people who we being here illegally that we were removing, particularly those foreign national offenders,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“I would talk to the home secretary about the work we were doing,” he said. “She knew about that work.”
Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the committee, this morning dismissed Lewis’ defence of Rudd.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said Lewis was “hiding behind semantics”.
“Beneath the spin, he let the truth slip and sealed her fate. Amber Rudd knew of the targets she pretended didn’t exist,” she said.
“The Home Office was fully aware that lives were being ruined as a result of their ‘hostile environment’ but pressed ahead anyway. It’s time for Rudd to go.”
An internal Home Office memo passed to The Guardian said the department had “a target of achieving 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18” and that this target had been exceeded.
The June 2017 memo from Hugh Ind, the director of the Immigration Enforcement agency, was sent to Rudd and Lewis.
In a series of tweets on Friday evening, Rudd claimed not to have seen the memo despite it having been sent to her.
“I wasn’t aware of specific removal targets. I accept I should have been and I’m sorry that I wasn’t,” she said.