Rycroft and Ridley: it could be an ecclesiastical outfitter’s, or a cheese shop in Belgravia. ‘Delicious Stinking Bishop, Petunia.’ ‘Thank you, I sourced it from Rycroft and Ridley.’
In fact Sir Matthew Rycroft is the Home Office‘s permanent secretary and Simon Ridley its interim second permanent secretary. For two hours they faced the Commons home affairs committee. One of the worst massacres I have seen.
Sir Matthew, tall and gulpy with Herman Munster’s forehead, was mustard on how many new officials (thousands) he had recruited in the past disastrous year but he knew markedly less about immigration details. Mr Ridley? Oh dear. This slender little chap was a gibbering, blinky, vortex of calamities who kept feverishly looking to his boss for help while strangulated despair gargled up his oesophagus. Mr Ridley was, basically, Mr Bean.
The Home Office is (mis)handling the immigration crisis. Ordure has been aimed at government ministers for the stalled Rwanda policy and other cock-ups. But here were the back-room geniuses. The mechanics in the pits. Not that you’d want these two to change your wheels. They’d forget to tighten the nuts.
Tim Loughton (Con, East Worthing & Shoreham) began with ‘congratulations on your knighthood, Sir Matthew’. Rycroft purred. He did not notice that Mr Loughton was being ironic.
Sir Matthew Rycroft (right) is the Home Office’s permanent secretary and Simon Ridley (left) its interim second permanent secretary. For two hours they faced the Commons home affairs committee. One of the worst massacres I have seen, writes QUENTIN LETTS
Sir Matthew was tall and gulpy with Herman Munster’s forehead, while Mr Ridley was, basically, Mr Bean
The committee sought figures. How many asylum seekers were being deported? How many were missing? How many lost migrant children had been found? How much would Rwanda cost ‘per passenger’? Fundamental knowledge for any immigration administrator.
Rycroft and Ridley could not give a single answer. ‘I don’t have a number.’ ‘We’ll have to write to you with that.’ ‘We do have the information not to hand.’ ‘I suggest I come back to you in detail.’
Sir Matthew went a little pink but blithely passed the buck. ‘I think Mr Ridley’s looking for the numbers,’ he murmured. Beside him, Ridley rifled frantically through a wad of papers, throwing sheets here and there while making Mr Bean squawks.
Poor Ridley. He licked his lips, rocked in his seat, plunged his hands below the desk top and clutched his groin, ever glancing at Sir Matthew in hope of salvation. Sir Matthew didn’t get where he is today by leaping to the assistance of underlings. He gazed ahead, cold as a Raspberry Mivvi.
First time our heroes failed to produce answers to statistical questions, the MPs accepted it. Second time, a few eyebrows. Third time, exasperation, with Lee Anderson (Con, Ashfield) muttering that it was ‘staggering’ and Alison Thewlis (SNP, Glasgow Central) saying it was ‘unacceptable’.
Then an explosion. The committee’s Labour chairman, Dame Diana Johnson, told the gruesome twosome, ‘I’d have thought you would have chapter and verse’. Silence. Dame Diana, normally the most patient of saints, said it was ‘really disrespectful to the committee’ the witnesses were so clueless. Another sticky silence. Dame Diana suggested that four young officials sitting behind the mandarins might dig in their handbags for the data required. The officials froze. One of them did later hand Sir Matthew a scruffy piece of paper – could have been a butcher’s bill – but he did not relate its contents. If he’d handed it to Mr Ridley, I dare say he’d have eaten it.
Poor Ridley was now so flustered that one of his replies began with the word ‘so’ repeated four times. Another started ‘I, I, I, I, I, I, I confess I don’t know’. He shrivelled and shrank, a lab specimen of managerial ineptitude.
He started chopping the air with one hand, as if trying to karate the table in two. Admissions of inaction crept out of him. One moment he didn’t know a number. Five minutes later he did, but denied ever having denied it. Terrified denial of denial. Sir Matthew ground his teeth and dreamed of his knightly pension. The MPs stared in astonishment.
At PMQs half an hour later Rishi Sunak had a distinctly ordinary outing, being skewered on the subject of, you guessed it, immigration.