A Home Office minister has been branded “callous” after he hit out at migrants for complaining about desperate conditions at an overcrowded processing centre in Kent.
Chris Philp said it was a “bit of a cheek” for them to protest the conditions in which they are being held in Manston.
The government has been scrambling to resolve the crisis after it emerged at the weekend that around 4,000 people were being held at a site designed for 1,600.
Within hours, Downing Street distanced itself from Mr Philp’s comments, saying migrants deserved to be treated “with compassion and respect”.
Mr Philp later remained silent when he was doorstepped by a television crew to ask if he stood by his comments.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick was also heckled by some residents on a visit to Dover with the town’s MP Natalie Elphicke, and dodged questions from the press.
The home secretary Suella Braverman was roundly condemned for claiming the UK faced an “invasion” on its south coast earlier this week, 24 hours after a firebomb attack on an immigration centre in Dover.
And Mr Philp himself also came under attack from fellow Tory MPs last month, after he accused critics of a planned tax cut for the very richest of the “politics of envy”.
Just weeks later he was sacked from his high-profile role as chief secretary to the Treasury, but was made a home office minister by new prime minister Rishi Sunak.
Manston has been described as a “pressure cooker”, with individuals and families sleeping in tents amid reports of disease outbreaks and simmering tension.
A nine-year-old girl said in a letter thrown over the perimeter fence that the centre felt “like a prison”.
And campaigners are threatening legal action against the home secretary over the conditions in which people are being held.
But Mr Philp told Times Radio: “If people choose to enter a country illegally and unnecessarily, it is a bit of a cheek to then start complaining about the conditions.
“They don’t even have to come here, they were in France already and previously often passed through Belgium, Germany, and many other countries on the way.
“So, we’re doing our best, but the numbers are just overwhelming.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “Chris Philp’s comments betray a shocking and callous complacency over the disaster unfolding at Manston
“It is unbelievable that as we hear reports of sexual assaults, disease, and chronic overcrowding, his response is to accuse those who complain of ‘cheek’.
“Rather than dismissing the problem he should start to show some leadership. People have had enough of the endless evasion, chaos and incompetence we have seen from the government on this issue.”
As ministers race to remove asylum seekers from the camp, Mr Philp also revealed that the processing centre is being expanded.
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.
Downing Street said the number of people at Manston has fallen to 2,600, with 1,200 people taken off site in the last four days.
But the leader of Westminster Council described the process as “chaos” after a group of migrants were left to sleep rough on the streets of London after being bussed to the capital late at night.
And Norwich Council said it was given no warning that people from Manston were being brought to the city by the Home Office.
Westminster City Council leader Adam Hug described the arrival of asylum-seekers from Manston in the capital in the early hours of Thursday as “chaos”.