‘I would never demonise people’: Robert Jenrick rejects Suella Braverman’s ‘invasion’ comments

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has rejected Suella Braverman’s comments comparing small boat crossings to an “invasion” saying he “would never demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life”.

The Home Secretary is facing a backlash after the comments made in the Commons on Monday night. As she fought to save her job, she made the controversial remarks just days after Rishi Sunak pledged “compassion” would be at the heart of his administration.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Jenrick, speaking to Sky News, said: “In a job like mine, you have to choose your words very carefully. And I would never demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life. I understand and appreciate our obligation to refugees.”

He however, defended Ms Braverman saying the “scale of the challenge we're facing is very, very significant”.

“Fifty thousand people, and the number could well be significantly higher over the course of this year, is a major challenge for this country.

“It is leading to the infrastructure that we have in terms of reception centres, like Manston, in terms of hotel accommodation, and asylum and social housing, essentially being overwhelmed.

“Invasion is a way of describing the sheer scale of the challenge.

“That's what Suella Braverman was trying to express. She was also speaking, I think, and this is an important point, for those people who live on the south coast, who day in, day out are seeing migrant boats landing on their beaches.”

Speaking in response to questions in the House of Commons amid concerns about conditions at the Manston processing site in Kent, Ms Braverman had described the deeping Channel crossings as an “invasion on our south coast”.

She said: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast and which party is not.

“Let’s stop pretending they are all refugees in distress”.

A watchdog has described ‘wretched’ conditions at the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent, which he warned is already past the point of being unsafe (PA Wire)
A watchdog has described ‘wretched’ conditions at the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent, which he warned is already past the point of being unsafe (PA Wire)

Within hours her use of the term ‘invasion’ was being championed by right-wing figures such as Nigel Farage.

Refugee charities described the embattled home secretary’s comments as “heinous” and “dehumanising”, while one Labour MP said similar language was why “racists and extremists” felt emboldened to attack vulnerable asylum seekers.

The escalation of rhetoric came a day after the separate Western Jet Foil migrant facility in Dover was fire-bombed by a suspect who was later found deceased.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants called her comments “heinous” and added: “She’s putting lives at risk.”

Clare Moseley, from refugee charity Care4Calais said: “For Suella Braverman to use language like ‘invasion’, to describe refugees - people who are themselves escaping conflict - is offensive. They know what being invaded feels like. We are lucky that most of us do not.”

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said: “Rishi Sunak pledged to bring integrity, professionalism and accountability as Prime Minister. Instead, he brought back Suella Braverman.”

Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael said: “These refugees are not an invasion, they are people who want to build a life for themselves and their families, contribute to our society and our economy, and support themselves instead of relying on handouts.”

Ms Braverman, who earlier admitted using her personal email to send Government documents on six occasions, denied blocking the use of hotels for asylum seekers.

She told the Commons that she foresaw problems at Manston and had deployed extra resources in September. A watchdog has described conditions at the severely overcrowded short-stay facility in Ramsgate as “alarming” and “wretched”.

"To be clear, like the majority of the British people I am very concerned about hotels but I have never blocked their usage,” she said.

"Indeed since I took over 12,000 people have arrived, 9,500 people have been transferred out of Manston or Western Jet Foil, many of them into hotels.

"And I have never ignored legal advice, as a former attorney general I know the importance of taking legal advice into account."

Questioned by Labour’s Rachael Maskell on the “inhumane” conditions about Manston, Ms Braverman said “inflammatory language” should not be used to avoided.

Ms Braverman claimed that “some 40,000 people" have crossed the Channel this year, calling it “a global migration crisis” and “unprecedented”.

Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said decision-making for cases of migrants has "collapsed", telling MPs 96% of the small boat arrivals last year have still not had a decision, and initial decisions alone are taking more than 400 days.

She accused the Government of a “total failure” to stop the proliferation of criminal gangs linked to small boat crossings.

Speaking about the fire attack at Western Jet Foil on Sunday, Ms Braverman described it as “a shocking incident”, but said “investigators must have the necessary space” to carry out their investigations.

Ms Cooper asked whether counter-terror police and counter-extremism units are involved in the investigation into the incident, noting: "It doesn't make sense for them not to be, why are the not?"

Ms Braverman declined to comment on specifics in relation to the attack.

The Home Secretary is further facing pressure after the revelation Monday that she used her personal email to send Government documents six times.

Responding to a reference made to that fact by MP Chris Bryant, Ms Braverman suggested there was a “political witch hunt” which ignored Government action on the asylum backlog.