Jeremy Hunt appeared to distance himself from Suella Braverman’s migration speech as he said he “wouldn’t use her words”.
The Chancellor, whose wife is Chinese, stressed the benefits of allowing skilled foreign workers into the UK when he was asked about the Home Secretary’s recent remarks.
Her speech in the United States last week, in which she argued that being discriminated against for being gay or a woman should not grant a person refugee status in the UK, has prompted a backlash, including from her own party.
Ms Braverman was also criticised by the United Nations refugee agency for saying that international treaties such as the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights should be reformed.
Speaking from the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Monday, Mr Hunt told TalkTV: “I am married to an immigrant and I’ve always believed that we benefit massively as a country from welcoming the brightest and best from all over the world.
“Suella Braverman wouldn’t use my words, I wouldn’t use her words.
“But she’s absolutely right that the social contract that makes Britain one of the most tolerant countries in the world when it comes to immigrants depends on fairness.
“And what we’re seeing at the moment with these criminal gangs smuggling thousands of people over the Channel is not fair. It’s an abuse of the way the law works in Britain, it’s an abuse of all the public services that you get free of charge here.
“And she is absolutely right to tackle that because otherwise we will undermine that social contract, and we won’t have that tolerant attitude that we’re so proud of having in this country.”
Other senior Tories, including the Home Secretary’s predecessor Dame Priti Patel, have also taken aim at Ms Braverman’s speech.
On Sunday, Dame Priti suggested the remarks may have been made to “get attention” and was “no substitute for action” on preventing small boats of migrants crossing the Channel.
The former home secretary also appeared to criticise Mrs Braverman’s declaration that multiculturalism had failed, saying integration in Britain by ethnic minorities is something to be “proud of”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to stop the boats – one of his five commitments to the electorate ahead of a likely general election next year.
Five things I'm doing to stop the boats👇 pic.twitter.com/X5q2hfUE3X
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) August 7, 2023
Almost 25,000 migrants have arrived on small boats since January, although that is around a quarter down on the same period last year.
Mr Sunak is not planning to halve the number of visas awarded to foreign workers as suggested by a group of Conservative MPs elected in 2019, Downing Street said.
It is one of the New Conservatives’ five manifesto ideas to be set out at a rally on the fringes of the Tory conference on Monday.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters: “I haven’t seen that specific suggestion. I’m not aware of any plans to do so.”
The official added that the UK already has “the ability to decide who we want to come here” and that the current focus is “on tackling illegal immigration”.