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PMQs: Weak Miliband fails to score points on Border Agency scandal

By Matthew Barrett
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PMQs 9th novToday's PMQs was a very poor show from Ed Miliband. He was unable to land any real blows despite having an open goal: the Border Agency scandal, and Theresa May's job performance.

Miliband started off his line of questioning by asking how many people entered the country under Theresa May's relaxed border scheme. Cameron responded by saying the figures "are published in the normal way", and then said arrests for various crimes increased as a result of the scheme. He then defended the Home Secretary, saying the scheme allowed better targeting for high-risk immigrants, mostly concerned children entering the country, and finished by saying the Home Secretary was right, and he "fully backs" her over the scheme. However, he said, civil servants took unauthorised measures to extend the scheme against orders from Ministers, and said it was right Brodie Clark, the civil servant involved, was suspended. May nodded along to the Prime Minister's answer.

Miliband replied that this was "just not good enough", and condemned the Prime Minister's inability to say how many people entered under the scheme. Cameron repeated the arrest figures. Miliband said the case was "utterly typical" and that "when things go wrong, it's nothing to do with them."

Mr Speaker felt the need to intervene in the subsequent jeering, and compared Members unfavourably with the Youth Parliament - a comparison which was met with groans on the governing benches, and Mr Speaker took offence, bellowing "order!" Miliband continued, quoting Theresa May condemning "Ministers who blame other people for things going wrong", something she said in opposition. Miliband then quoted the Prime Minister saying the scheme's extension was wrong. 

Cameron replied that Labour couldn't lecture anyone on immigration - listing asylum seekers and the fact millions of Eastern Europeans have migrated to the country as examples of Labour failure.

Miliband again pointed out Cameron was blaming other people. Cameron repeated the figures for arrests that the scheme led to. Cameron then listed e-borders, the National Crime Agency, drug seizures, rejection of visa applications, and turning away 68,000 people with incorrect paperwork as examples of how the Coalition is tougher on immigration than Labour was. He ended by saying "finally we've got a Home Office and an Immigration Minister that wants to cut immigration".

Miliband said "anyone listening to the Prime Minister would think his policy is a great success - it's a fiasco!" Miliband asked how many Border Agency staff would be cut. Cameron responded with a very effective answer: there will be as many people as were working in the Border Agency in 2006, when Miliband was planning spending in the Treasury. Cameron listed some more cases of the government being tough: student visas, spouses having to speak English, and bogus colleges. Miliband called it a "fiasco" again. The Prime Minister is out of touch, and the government shambolic, Miliband claimed.

Cameron said Miliband should listen to Blue Labour's Lord Glasman, who said "Labour lied about the extent of immigration". Cameron demanded to know where Labour's apology for immigration failure was.

Some notes on backbench questions:

  • Andrew Selous (Con, South West Befordshire) asked whether the Prime Minister would encourage health authorities to engage in pilots offering support for families in their early years, in order to prevent family breakdown. The Prime Minister said we spend money on the consequences of family breakdown - we should spend some money trying to prevent families from breaking down in the first place.
  • Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle) asked whether Britain would support a Palestinian state at the UN in the coming days. The Prime Minister said Israel and Palestine should negotiate between themselves - a statehood bid won't necessarily lead to peace in itself.
  • Tracey Crouch (Con, Chatham and Aylesford) asked the Prime Minister to condemn the decision by FIFA not to allow the English and Welsh national football teams to wear the remembrance poppy on their shirts. Cameron said the country is "baffled, and frankly angry" at the decision, saying he hoped FIFA would reconsider their decision
  • Geraint Davies (Lab, Swansea West) asked a hysterical question implying the government is disenfranchising poor people in order that they can't vote against government cuts. Cameron had the appropriate figures for constituency sizes available - and was able to brush off the question. He added constituency size equalisation was one of the Chartists' demands. It was time we implemented it, he said. 
  • Karen Lumley (Con, Redditch) asked whether it was right for Labour to take instruction as to how they vote from unions. The Prime Minister said it was "a serious issue". Labour backbenches showed dissent. "I can hear resistance", Cameron said - and not surprisingly given Labour's funding, he noted. 
  • Jo Johnson (Con, Orpington) referenced Italian bond yields and asked what the Prime Minister is doing to stop Eurozone contagion. The Prime Minister responded that Eurozone leaders must put more resources into the firewall.
  • Alec Shelbrooke (Con, Elmet and Rothwell) asked the Prime Minister to write to FIFA to condemn the decision not to allow a poppy on national football shirts. Cameron said he hoped a strong display of condemnation from the government would, hopefully, get FIFA to reconsider their decision. 
  • Bill Cash (Con, Stone) said renegotiation of treaties was essential, rather than just a "firewall". Cameron said the government will "do a good deal for Britain" and protect national interests  in any renegotiations that do arise. 


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