Theresa May faces a tough time in the Commons today when she takes questions on the Home Office, and makes a statement on the way border controls were secretly relaxed this summer. She will have to answer questions on whether any terror suspects are thought to have entered the country during that period.
May had better have some good answers because take immigration, one of the most controversial of all political subjects, and add to it a nice, big, juicy hunk of a gaffe and you have an almost perfect recipe for political disaster. A resignation is the cherry on top.
The Home Secretary certainly isn’t the first to have made a gaffe on immigration. In fact she’s been responsible for more than one herself. At Conservative Party conference this year she made a speech in which she told a cautionary tale of a young man whose ownership of a pet cat was taken into account when immigration officials were deciding if he could stay in Britain.
Ken Clarke then went on to call May’s argument “childlike” and “laughable”, and it then emerged that May’s cabinet colleague Chris Huhne had tipped off a newspaper that the home secretary’s tale was alarmingly identical to one which Nigel Farage had been telling a few years earlier. Add to this the irresistible opportunity for the media of a “cat fight” pun and the whole thing escalated into a fully blown row.
Here’s a look at some other famous immigration gaffes:
Charles Clarke: When it emerged in 2007 that more than 1000 foreign criminals had been released from prison without being considered for deportation Clarke faced pressure to resign. When it was revealed that some of those released had gone on to reoffend the pressure became too much and Clarke was forced to resign.
Jacqui Smith: In 2008 Smith was accused of a cover up after leaked emails showed that 5000 illegal immigrants had been cleared to work in security sensitive posts in Whitehall. When Smith had found out she had only been in the job, as the first female home secretary, for a week, and given Clarke’s fate the year before the information was withheld from the public. After the scandal was leaked Smith faced pressure but she managed to survive.
Phil Woolas: Woolas has become something of a pro at gaffes over the years, and a number of them have involved immigration. He was accused of being insensitive to the armed forces when he suggested that officials at the UK border agency were “putting their lives on the line” by doing their job, and that they were “very brave men and women”.
In a separate incident he said that “there has to be a limit on the population” before backtracking a few days later. He then went on to say that the government had made errors in their handling of immigration.
A member of pro immigration group No Borders threw a pie in his face when he spoke in a debate at Manchester University after the group accused him of “spouting right-wing anti-immigration policies”.
Gordon Brown: It’s fair to say that the general election of 2010 wasn’t the best time of Gordon Brown’s political career. It could have been an opportunity for him to go quietly, with much attention focusing on Clegg and Cameron. Instead, in an almost comical campaign Brown made a gaffe which would end up as one of his defining moments. Whilst on the campaign trail Labour Party supporter Gillian Duffy asked Brown what he was planning to do about immigration. He later called her a “bigoted woman”, not realising his microphone was still on. The nation held their head in their hands.