SINCE he became Leader of the Conservative Opposition, Michael Howard has gone out on a limb with serious allegations against the government on three occasions. The first was his assertion that the Prime Minister had been “economical with the truth” over the extent of his involvement in the decision to name Dr David Kelly as the source of the leak to the BBC's Andrew Gilligan on weapons of mass destruction. The second was his general attack on the government's handling of the events surrounding Dr Kelly's death. In each case it was clear that he confidently expected the Hutton Report to support his position - but, in the event, it did not do so in either. Mr Howard must therefore have been very sure of his ground when he launched a strong attack on the government over immigration matters at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. His concluding words were: “The Home Secretary has lost control of his department, the immigration minister is not up to her job and the government's immigration system is an utter and complete shambles.” Within a few hours the immigration minister, Beverley Hughes, had resigned; she said she recognised that some of the answers she had given on the BBC Newsnight programme on Monday about the handling of Bulgarian and Romanian immigration cases were not consistent with facts that had been drawn to her attention over a year ago. It was one of Mr Howard's strongest points when facing the Prime Minister that criticism of the system had been made many months ago but ignored. Mr Howard will feel that he can claim his first ministerial scalp. Ms Hughes behaved honourably in resigning. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is left exposed after supporting his junior minister so strongly.


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