The immigration minister has declined to repeat Suella Braverman’s claim of an “invasion” of asylum seekers across the Channel, after fierce criticism of her inflammatory language.
The scandal-hit home secretary has been accused of putting lives at risk with the rhetoric of the far-right – immediately echoed by Nigel Farage – one day after the firebombing of a refugee centre in Dover
Robert Jenrick was asked if he would use the word “invasion”, but replied: “In a job like mine, you have to choose your words very carefully
“I would never demonise people coming to this country in pursuit of a better life and I understand and appreciate our obligation to refugees.”
Asked if Ms Braverman was “wrong” to use the word, Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “I think invasion is a way of describing the sheer scale of the challenge and that is what Suella Braverman was trying to express.”
The minister admitted the Manston processing centre – where people are sleeping on floors and detained for up to four weeks – is “not fit for purpose”, saying: “I’m not here to defend that.”
But he insisted allegations that his boss rejected advice to book hotel space last month, to avoid the chronic overcrowding, were wrong, saying: “Suella Braverman and her predecessor Priti Patel were procuring more hotels.”
Ms Braverman is still fighting for her political life, after being accused of “deliberately” creating the Manston crisis by refusing to reserve hotel space as a warning to other would-be refugees.
But immediate attention has switched to her telling the Commons: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast and which party is not.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, called it “highly irresponsible”, saying: “This is yet more evidence that Suella Braverman does not take public safety or national security seriously.”
Tory MP Roger Gale, whose constituency includes Manston, said: “There is a very great danger with her inflammatory language. People need to use their language carefully because extremists latch on to those words.”
But Mr Jenrick declined to criticise Ms Braverman, telling BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s a phrase that expresses very clearly the concern that millions of people feel across the country.”
Mr Jenrick admitted the government is breaking the law by holding up to 4,000 people at Manston – a site designed for 1,600 – for far longer than the 24 hours permitted.
“A site like Manson needs to operate within the law. I have been completely clear to my officials that’s what we must do,” he said.
But he insisted ministers are not to blame, adding: “The root cause of what we’re seeing at Manston is not the government.
“It’s certainly not the brilliant Border Force staff who are managing the site, the contractors, the catering staff. The problem is that thousands of people are crossing the Channel illegally every day.”