Amber Rudd fighting to 'stay in the game' as she triggers fresh row on Brexit

Amber Rudd braved a second ferocious Westminster interrogation on Windrush in 24 hours, but inadvertently triggered a new row on Brexit.

After a torrid two-hour hearing in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee of MPs, she subjected herself to 40 minutes of questions from political journalists.

She refused to say whether she had considered or offered her resignation, admitted Windrush was both a "crisis" and a "fiasco" and admitted she was fighting to "stay in the game".

But she blundered when she was asked if the UK would stay in the Customs Union after Brexit, which Theresa May has ruled out, replying: "I'm afraid I'm not going to be drawn on that.

"We still have a few discussions to be had, in a really positive, consensual, easy way amongst some of my cabinet colleagues in order to arrive at a final position."

The embattled Home Secretary, already fighting for her political survival, seemed to forget former Chancellor Denis Healey's first rule of politics: "When you're in a hole, stop digging."

Labour's Sir Keir Starmer immediately leapt on her Customs Union remarks and declared: "Amber Rudd appears to have let slip that discussions around the Cabinet table about negotiating a customs union with the EU have not in fact concluded."

That prompted the Home Secretary to tweet that "I should have been clearer".

She said that "of course" Britain would be leaving the customs union when it quits the EU.

But she did not confirm it would not still be part of a customs union.

Pro-Brexit Tory Peter Bone tweeted: "Could not understand why Amber Rudd did not support government policy to leave the Customs Union. We cannot have Home Secretary not supporting this key plank of Brexit!"

And Liberal Democrat MP Leyla Moran said: "Amber Rudd has let the cat out of the bag. After the week the Home Secretary has had, being the Prime Minister's human shield, this feels and looks like revenge."

Downing Street then came close to slapping down Ms Rudd, seen up until now as a Theresa May ally, insisting: "The Government's position is clear. We are leaving the customs union and we will not be joining a customs union."

MPs passed a non-binding vote later on Friday for the UK to stay in some form of customs union after Brexit.

The Home Secretary was speaking at a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch, an event which it has been claimed can make or break the careers of politicians with ambitions to reach the top. The lunch had been in the diary for several weeks.

On the menu was warm baked smoked haddock quiche, followed by lamb cutlet and breast with minted béarnaise, rosemary fondant and Swiss chard. But most of those present were there to see the Home Secretary grilled.

While some had wondered if Ms Rudd would cancel given her newly-beleaguered position, she was having none of that and even turned up early.

As the Windrush row has engulfed her, she has clearly opted to follow what Tony Blair used to call his "masochism strategy", facing his critics head on.

She has also, in recent days, almost echoed former Home Secretary John Reid's claim that the Home Office was "not fit for purpose".

She began her speech by admitting grimly: "This is exactly what I wanted to be doing this week, coming to talk to such a friendly group."

In her talk, which she said would not be light-hearted because this was a "very serious time", she spoke of her determination to "sort out" Windrush, reform policing and crack down on domestic violence.

Afterwards, the first question Ms Rudd was asked was about whether she had considered resigning or offered to quit. She dodged it. "I hope you can see why I want to go on," she said.

She was then asked about her leadership ambitions following reports that she, Michael Gove and Gavin Williamson have been raising funds for a leadership election contest.

"What if the ball came loose at the back of the scrum?" she was asked, teasingly. She frowned and said: "I'm not thinking about any balls coming out. I'm just thinking of staying in the game."

She also, rather surprisingly, failed to give her backing to Theresa May's controversial policy which aims to cut net migration to below 100,000 a year, telling a journalist: "I'll come back to you on that."

Later, asked how she would vote on the customs union if she was a backbencher, she snapped back: "You have anticipated my demise a bit early."

After the events of the past few days, she may not have been correct about that.