Cleverly’s ‘frank’ talk with Albanian PM over Braverman’s migrant claims

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said he had a “very frank” conversation with the Albanian prime minister in the wake of Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s controversial claims over the numbers of migrants from his country trying to reach the UK.

Edi Rama angrily accused Ms Braverman of “discriminating” against his countrymen to distract from her own policy failures after she raised the issue in the Commons earlier this week, saying the UK was suffering an “invasion”.

Mr Cleverly, speaking from a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Germany, told the PA news agency that they had discussed the matter when he spoke to Mr Rama later in the week.

“We spoke about the things that the Home Secretary has been talking about which is the very, very significant number of Albanians putting themselves at risk in the hands of people traffickers.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had a ‘very frank’ talk with the Albanian prime minister (Aaron Chown/PA)

“Of course we discussed the situation and the conversations that have been had at both ends and statements that have been made at both ends.

“The bottom line is that the prime minister and I had a very good conversation, a very friendly conversation and because we have a very good working relationship, he and I, we were able, in a very, very friendly way, to have a very frank conversation as well.

“That is how you get situations resolved by being able to speak frankly with your interlocutors.”

Earlier, Downing Street insisted migrants “deserve to be treated with compassion and respect” after a Home Office minister criticised the “cheek” of complaints from people arriving in the country “illegally” about processing centre conditions.

Home Office minister Robert Jenrick with Natalie Elphicke, MP for the Dover constituency, during a visit to meet residents
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was heckled on a visit to Dover with local MP Natalie Elphicke (Gareth Fuller/PA)

No 10 appeared to distance itself from comments made by Chris Philp amid overcrowding chaos at the Manston holding centre in Kent, where at one point as many as 4,000 people were being detained for weeks in a site intended to hold 1,600 for a matter of days.

It comes as immigration minister Robert Jenrick was heckled by some residents while visiting Dover with local MP Natalie Elphicke, while a woman in the town said her teenage son had been beaten up after she spoke out in the media over what has been happening.

Meanwhile councils have expressed concern over the number of asylum seekers being housed in hotels in their districts by the Home Office, with two more preparing to take the companies involved to court.

Close to 40,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year. But no crossings have been recorded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the last three days. The provisional total to date for 2022 is 39,913.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps and Home Secretary Suella Braverman arriving in Downing Street, London, ahead of a Cabinet meeting
Home Secretary Suella Braverman caused anger in Albania over here comments about migrants (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Philp had told Times Radio: “If people choose to enter a country illegally, and unnecessarily, it is a bit, you know, it’s a bit of a cheek to then start complaining about the conditions when you’ve illegally entered a country without necessity.”

But when asked if Mr Philp was speaking for the Government, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “As we’ve been clear, those individuals deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.

“Obviously the current approach is not working and it is placing huge pressures – both in terms of on the Government and on the local area – and that is presenting significant challenges, which is why we continue to work both with French colleagues and more broadly to try and resolve this issue.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said Mr Philp’s comments revealed “a shocking and callous complacency over the disaster unfolding at Manston.”

Kent Tory MP Sir Roger Gale told the PA news agency while he could see where Mr Philp was “coming from” in respect to those capable of fending for themselves, it was not a “cheek” to say children and women should be “treated humanely”.

Mr Philp also refuted claims by ministers earlier in the week that Manston was not operating legally, telling Sky News: “I don’t accept the premise that it is not legally compliant today, a lot of change has been made even in the last few days.”

Downing Street said the number of people at Manston has fallen to 2,600, with 1,200 taken off the site within the last four days.

The Home Secretary toured immigration centres on Thursday as she battled to grip the migrant crisis and in the face of threats of legal action over Manston, sexual assault allegations at a hotel housing asylum seekers and international criticism of her use of language.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston using all the legal powers available and sourcing alternative accommodation.

“The welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance and asylum seekers are only released from Manston when they have assured us that they have accommodation to go to – to suggest otherwise is wrong and misleading.”