PMQs verdict: May dodges bullet with claim Labour destroyed landing cards

Andrew Sparrow

Key points

Theresa May said people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth countries had made a huge contribution to the nation. These people were British. There was no intention of making them leave, she said.

She said she wanted to say sorry and to apologise to those who had “mistakenly” received letters threatening deportation.

Jeremy Corbyn said that last month he raised the case of Albert Thompson, who has lived in the UK for decades but has been denied NHS treatment. May brushed it off, saying Thompson was not part of the Windrush generation. But she said clinicians had been looking at his case, and he would get the treatment he needed.

Corbyn asked if May took the decision to destroy the landing cards of Windrush immigrants. No, said May. The decision was taken in 2009 under a Labour government.

Corbyn countered that under May, the Home Office was heartless and hopeless. And, he said, under her the government is callous and incompetent.

Snap verdict

May prevailed. She dodged the bullet. It would be wrong to describe anything associated with this wretched affair as a triumph, or even a victory, but it was a success of sorts because, in response to the killer question, she had an answer that exonerated her. Or at least seemed to.

We need to learn more about her claim that it was the Labour home secretary in 2009 (Jacqui Smith or Alan Johnson) who took the decision to get rid of the Windrush landing cards, but for the purposes of PMQs, her answer was enough to derail Corbyn and let her off the hook.

(May’s comment about Albert Thompson now getting NHS treatment also needs further scrutiny, as Corbyn suggested when he countered that if the treatment was being provided, Thompson had not been told.)

Barristers supposedly operate on the basis that you should never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer, and Corbyn did not seem to have prepared for May’s riposte on the landing cards. That said, he did not really let it throw him off his stride. He had another deadly question ready – the one about whether Amber Rudd, or May, was to blame for the institutional problems within the Home Office that Rudd mentioned on Monday (and he should have asked it a second time, after May ignored it). And his soundbite sound-off in question six was good. But it is hard to avoid the feeling that Labour MPs will view this as a missed opportunity.

Memorable lines

Corbyn goes for the hit on the destruction of Windrush landing cards:

Did the PM, the then home secretary, sign off that decision?

But May is prepared:

The decision to destroy the landing cards was taken in 2009 under a Labour government.

As was Corbyn’s final pay-off:

Under her, the Home Office became heartless and hopeless, and doesn’t she now run a government that is both callous and incompetent?