Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Party chairman, had an interesting new defence of Amber Rudd this morning. The former immigration minister claimed that the home secretary was aware of the “overall target” to increase deportations, but not of the specific “internal targets” she had denied existed. Got that? Labour claim Lewis has inadvertently stitched his old boss up.
Also on the Sunday shows today, John McDonnell said reports Russian Twitter bots backed Labour at the general election were a “smear campaign”. Sadiq Khan said it would be “inappropriate” for him to join protests against Donald Trump. Andrew Gwynne said “nobody” in Labour should share a platform with anyone expelled from the party for anti-Semitism. Brexit is still a thing. And Labour is downplaying its chances at Thursday local elections.
Target Amber Rudd
Brandon Lewis was immigration minister in 2017 when the director of the Immigration Enforcement agency sent Amber Rudd a memo to tell her “a target of achieving 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18” had been exceeded.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Lewis confirmed he also was sent the memo and, unlike Rudd, read it. “Absolutely,” he said. “It was a memo to me.”
Rudd last week denied the Home Office had deportation targets. “We don’t have targets for removals,” she told the home affairs committee.
The statement turned out not to be true. But Rudd claimed she was not aware of the targets.
Defending Rudd, Lewis said the home secretary was talking about the “internal targets” in the Home Office.
“If you look at the question she was asked, she was being asked about the localised regional internal, effectively the KPI is the Immigration Enforcement Agency was using, and no she was not aware of that,” he said.
But he went on to say that as immigration minister, he had kept Rudd up to date about progress towards achieving the “overall target”, or “overall ambition” of increasing the number of illegal immigrants kicked out of Britain by 10%.
Marr appeared unimpressed with the defence. “They were just asking about targets,” he said of the MPs on the committee. “This is a very, very, very sort of thin line to defend.”
Labour’s Yvette Cooper tersely dismissed the suggestion her committee had been asking Rudd only about “internal targets” not targets in general.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, pounced on Lewis’ admission he spoke to Rudd about the “overall target”.
“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 in a statement. “It’s time for Rudd to go.”
Jo Johnson, the Conservative transport minister, was on ITV’s Peston on Sunday to defend Rudd. “Amber is a great home secretary,” he said. “She is an outstanding figure in our politics.” Awkwardly, Johnson is married to Amelia Gentleman, the Guardian journalist behind the Windrush revelations that have led to calls for Rudd to resign.
James Cleverly, the deputy chairman of the Tory party, was in the chair on Sky News’ Sunday with Paterson to defend Rudd. The home secretary, he said, was “incredibly diligent and focused”.
Labour has been calling for Rudd to quit for days, and will no doubt go for the jugular on Monday when she makes a statement to MPs about the whole mess. But the Lib Dems have been holding back. Vince Cable told Marr he was not yet ready to call for Rudd to go. “I don’t believe in lynch mobs, I want to hear what she has to say,” he said.
Perhaps Cable does not want the cabinet to lose one of its most senior pro-Remain figures as the government battles over what approach to take towards the customs union after Brexit.
Ed Vaizey, the Tory former culture minister, was asked this morning if his defence of Rudd was because”Remainers stick together?”. He told Peston: “You could say that.”
The Windrush scandal and Amber Rudd’s future has dominated Westminster for the past week. But Brexit is still bubbling along under the surface (although the home secretary managed to get in to trouble over that as well).
Brandon Lewis told Marr the UK “won’t be staying in the customs union” after it leaves the EU. But said a “customs partnership” was a different matter.
“A customs partnership is an agreement with the European Union about being able to trade with frictionless and easy, efficient borders, so we can continue really good trade. But importantly, give us the ability to work those trade agreements around the world where there’s so much opportunity for the British economy,” he said.
Theresa May’s “customs partnership” concept has been dismissed as “cretinous” by Jacob Rees-Mogg who warned it would be the same as staying in the current customs union.
“Jacob has his own wonderful way with words to explain things,” Lewis said.
Pro-Brexit Tory Bernard Jenkin told the BBC’s Sunday Politics it would be “unwise” for the Commons to vote in favour of keeping the UK in a customs union as it would be “pitting parliament against the choice made by the British people”.
But Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson dismissed that argument. The government was “wrong” to argue leaving the EU meant leaving the customs union. “Just because the government said it, it doesn’t make it right,” she said.
On Thursday, amid the Windrush scandal, Labour’s anti-Semitism arguments and ongoing Brexit wrangling, voters go to the polls in local elections. Labour is expected to do well and there has been talk of the party snatching flagship local councils in London from the Tories including Westminster and Wandsworth.
But John McDonnell, as would be expected, sought to downplay expectations. “I think we’ll have a good result,” he told Sky. “But we’ll see on the day, as I say too many local factors come into play to make an accurate prediction at this stage.”
The shadow chancellor also said he had an “abysmal track record of predictions” in local elections so people should stop asking him what he thought would happen.
Over on Marr, Andrew Gwynne, who is running Labour’s local election campaign, also played a bit of expectation management. He said it would “probably going to be difficult to get anything like as close” to the good result the party got in 2014 when the seats were last up for grabs. “Let’s be realistic here. We’ve never, ever held the City of Westminster. We last held Wandsworth in 1978.”
Tune in Friday morning morning to see what happens.