Rishi Sunak distanced himself from Suella Braverman’s claim the country was facing an “invasion” by migrants as counter-terror police took control of an investigation into the firebombing of an immigration processing centre.
The Prime Minister told his Cabinet that the UK will always be a “compassionate, welcoming country” after the Home Secretary faced a backlash over her comments.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman suggested Ms Braverman was seeking to “express the sheer scale of the challenge” at hand.
Ms Braverman’s Home Office colleague, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, warned against demonising people seeking to come to the UK and stressed the importance of choosing words carefully.
It is understood that Ms Braverman’s comment to MPs – that “the British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not” – had not been cleared with No 10.
On Tuesday, counter-terrorism police took over the investigation into the petrol bomb attack in Dover, Kent, on Sunday, which detectives believe was sparked by “some form of hate filled grievance”.
Andrew Leak, 66, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, is believed to have killed himself after throwing two or three “crude” incendiary devices.
Detective Chief Superintendent Olly Wright, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE), said: “What appears clear is that this despicable offence was targeted and likely to be driven by some form of hate filled grievance, though this may not necessarily meet the threshold of terrorism.”
Downing Street said the Prime Minister told his Cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday that the UK would always be a welcoming country, while Ms Braverman said a “whole Government approach” would be needed to tackle the migrant crisis.
In a combative Commons performance on Monday, Ms Braverman denied ignoring legal advice to procure more accommodation amid warnings that a temporary holding centre at Manston in Kent had become dangerously overcrowded.
With the Government spending £6.8 million a day putting up migrants in hotels – at an average cost of £150 per person per night – she insisted she was right to order a review of the way the system was working.
Questioned about her “invasion” comments, immigration minister Robert Jenrick told the BBC: “It is not a phrase that I have used, but I do understand the need to be straightforward with the general public about the challenge that we as ministers face.”
Watch: What are the problems facing Manston immigration centre?
On Sky News, Mr Jenrick 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.”
Almost 40,000 people have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year.
“Invasion is a way of describing the sheer scale of the challenge,” Mr Jenrick said.
“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.”
The Home Secretary has denied claims that she ignored legal advice and rejected calls by officials to procure more hotel accommodation for migrants amid mounting concern about the situation at Manston.
Asked about an LBC report that the Home Secretary refused to sign off on hotels because they were in Tory-supporting areas, Mr Jenrick told the radio station: “We are working to try to disperse individuals across the whole of the United Kingdom so that this burden is borne fairly.
“There’s no politics in that, it’s a simple matter of practicality, but that is a symptom of the problem, which is that too many people are crossing the Channel illegally in the small boats and our job is to try to tackle that. There are no easy answers to that.”
No 10 said Ms Braverman told the Cabinet that “large numbers” of people were being taken from Manston to other accommodation, in a bid to “help relieve pressure”.
A union representing Border Force workers at Manston said the Home Office hoped to move 400 people out of the site on Tuesday.
Some families were said to have been sleeping on the floor and there were reports of outbreaks of disease.
Asked about reports of cases of diphtheria, MRSA and scabies there, Mr Jenrick told BBC Breakfast: “Well, those reports are not correct. They’ve been exaggerated. ”
He said there have been four cases of diphtheria “but those are all individuals who came into the site with that condition”.
Serious challenges remain for migrants arriving in Kent by small boats.
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Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said the Home Office needs to “get a grip” of the situation.
He told Sky News: “What’s happening at Manston, when I visited, was people were sleeping on the floors, on the rubber mats down on the floors, and then very thin blankets or mattresses. Lots and lots of people in a room, all squished in together, very uncomfortable.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “No home secretary serious about public safety or national security would use the language Suella Braverman did the day after a petrol bomb attack on a Dover centre.
“But that’s the point. She isn’t serious about any of those things.”