UK home secretary slammed for asylum seeker ‘invasion’ remarks

Opposition lawmakers, charities and Conservative MPs round on Suella Braverman over ‘inflammatory’ comments.

Suella Braverman
Braverman, a darling of the Conservative’s right-wing faction, is pushing to crack down on the number of migrants and refugees reaching the UK via the English Channel [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has come under heavy criticism for describing the arrival of asylum seekers on the United Kingdom’s southern coast as an “invasion”, with lawmakers from across the political spectrum and non-governmental organisations denouncing her choice of language as “inflammatory” and “heinous”.

Braverman, who is fighting to save her job after she admitted breaching security rules, told Parliament on Monday that she was working to stop the “invasion on our southern coast” in reference to the arrival of migrants and refugees in small boats across the English Channel.

“Let’s stop pretending they are all refugees in distress, the whole country knows that is not true,” she said.

Her remarks came a day after a man used firebombs to attack an immigration processing centre in the port town of Dover and drew immediate widespread criticism.

Yvette Cooper, the home affairs spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said Braverman’s rhetoric over the issue had deteriorated in line with the government’s performance.

“No Home Secretary who was serious about public safety or national security would use highly inflammatory language on the day after a dangerous petrol bomb attack on a Dover initial processing centre,” she tweeted.

Fellow Labour politician and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also slammed Braverman’s comments.

“This language is utterly grotesque, divisive and inflammatory. It’s the sort of rhetoric used by the far-right,” he tweeted.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a charity, meanwhile described the home secretary’s remarks as “heinous”.

Braverman mired in controversy

Robert Jenrick, an immigration minister in Braverman’s department, said his boss’s comments reflected the scale of the crisis along the UK’s coastline but also warned politicians must be careful with the language they use.

Asked by the BBC on Tuesday if Braverman was wrong to use the word “invasion”, he said it was “not a phrase” that he had deployed himself.

“I think in this job you do have to use your language carefully but you also have to accept that many millions of people across this country are rightfully extremely concerned about this issue and we mustn’t diminish that,” Jenrick said.

Nearly 40,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the UK via small boats this year, a record-high figure.

Braverman, a darling of the Conservative’s right-wing faction, is pushing to crack down on the number of crossings.

She has said it is her “dream” to see refugees and asylum seekers deported from the UK to Rwanda despite vehement opposition to the idea from critics and the prospect of legal pushback against it.

Braverman was reappointed to her post by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week, six days after she resigned from the same role for breaching ministerial rules by sending a sensitive government document via her personal email.

She has also been accused of failing to listen to legal advice on the prolonged detention of migrants and refugees at another processing centre in Manston, and failing to secure adequate accommodation, both claims she has denied.

Roger Gale, a fellow Conservative legislator whose southeastern constituency of North Thanet includes that centre, said her predecessors had found alternative accommodation such as hotels but that had stopped when she took over.

“I don’t accept or trust this home secretary’s word,” he told the UK’s Times Radio station. “She is only really interested in playing to the right wing.”

Conditions at the site at Manston in Kent were last week described by Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal as “pretty wretched”.

A report found people were sleeping on the floor, some were not given access to telephones and were not allowed to close toilet doors fully.

Intended to house about 1,500 people for less than 24 hours at a time, numbers have swelled to more than double that, with one Afghan family saying they had been there for 32 days.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies