Migrants “deserve to be treated with compassion and respect”, Downing Street stressed, after a Home Office minister criticised the “cheek” of complaints from people arriving in the country “illegally” about processing centre conditions.
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 visiting Dover with the town’s MP Natalie Elphicke and dodged questions from the press.
Meanwhile councils have expressed concern over 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.
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, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “I haven’t spoken to the Prime Minister about that specifically.
“Certainly it is true that Home Office border force officials and many others are working hard to provide safe, secure accommodation for those individuals that come via these routes.
“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 “reveal a shocking and callous complacency over the disaster unfolding at Manston.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale told the PA news agency he could see where Mr Philp was “coming from” in respect to people “perfectly capable of fending for themselves” crossing the Channel to the UK.
But he said in his opinion it is not a “cheek” to say children and women should be “treated humanely”.
On Thursday, Government minister Graham Stuart conceded Manston was not operating legally and “none of us are comfortable with it”, but sought to blame an “unacceptable surge” in small boat crossings for the problem, adding that the “system is struggling to cope”.
This followed on from similar suggestions from Mr Jenrick earlier in the week.
But on Friday, policing minister Mr Philp insisted the opposite, 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 since you spoke to Robert,” adding that “significant improvements” have been made.
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.
Sir Roger said the aim is to reduce the number to 1,500 by the end of the day, which would bring it under its maximum capacity of 1,600.
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.
Suella Braverman, who was reinstated to her ministerial post just over a week ago, met Border Force teams in Dover to discuss Channel crossings operations before visiting the scandal-hit Manston processing centre to hear updates from staff but avoided speaking to the media.
Sir Roger, who joined her for the visit to Manston, said Ms Braverman was “very thorough”, looking at “everything there was to be looked at” and asking “a lot of questions”.
He added: “I hope she’s got now a proper idea of what it was all about.”
Ms Elphicke accused Ms Braverman of failing to meet other Kent politicians during her trip, describing it as a “great pity”. The next day Mr Jenrick returned to Dover to meet her and speak to residents.
On Friday the pair spent about an hour talking to families who live in Aycliffe, where last week there were reports that police were called to a home where a man had gone to ask to use a phone after a group of migrants landed on a beach nearby.
As Mr Jenrick walked along the road with Ms Elphicke, 48-year-old Aycliffe resident Thomas Dougan shouted: “Are you Government? What a waste of space.”
Ms Elphicke said Mr Jenrick heard “first-hand” about the “enormous impact” the crisis was having on the lives of local people, claiming migrants had “entered the home and gardens of residents” in the area in recent weeks.
“They were able to tell him how frightened they were by this experience, their concerns about how regular this seems to be, and also about the pressures on the local services that there are,” she told the BBC.
A Home Office spokesperson 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.”