Britian's Home Office minister Beverley Hughes has resigned in the wake of the row about her handling of immigration issues.
Ms Hughes has been embroiled in a "scandal"' centred on allegations that the Home Office "rubber-stamped'' immigration applications from eastern Europe despite warnings from embassies that many were based on bogus documents.
The beleaguered immigration minister insisted on Tuesday that her conscience was clear over the allegations - and she received the full backing of her boss, Home Secretary David Blunkett and the Prime Minister.
The Tories called for Ms Hughes to resign after it emerged that the Home Office had been warned 18 months ago of an “organised scam” involving Romanian and Bulgarian applicants for permission to stay in Britain.
In a stormy Commons debate, shadow home secretary David Davis accused her of presiding over a “catastrophic failure” in the immigration system, which had seen embassy warnings of bogus applications routinely ignored by officials at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND).
And Tories accused her and Mr Blunkett of trying to palm off blame on to civil servants, after the Home Secretary said it should be “common sense” for officials to reject applications based on forged or fraudulent documentation.
Mr Blunkett offered a staunch defence of his minister, telling MPs: “She has our unequivocal backing and will continue to do so.”
He announced the suspension of all immigration applications from Romania and Bulgaria while an internal investigation is carried out.
And Ms Hughes – who has been under constant flak since allegations of systematic waiving of checks on would-be immigrants from eastern Europe were first aired three weeks ago – was defiant.
“I am not resigning, because my conscience is clear,” she told MPs. “I am neither incompetent nor dishonest and I intend to continue doing my job as long as the Prime Minister and Home Secretary want me to.”
Tony Blair made clear she retained his support. His official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister believes Beverley Hughes is a first-rate minister and the job that she does is probably one of the toughest jobs outside Cabinet.”