Suella Braverman was simply showing the public she “gets” the scale of the English Channel small boat crossings problem with her “invasion” rhetoric, a cabinet minister has claimed.
Mark Harper defended Ms Braverman over her inflammatory language, saying it was a “good thing” for politicians to show they were in touch with the public.
“I think it’s very important that the home secretary demonstrates to the public she understands the scale of the problem, so that the public has the confidence that she and the immigration minister are going to put the appropriate focus on dealing with that,” he told Sky News.
Mr Harper added: “The public understanding that politicians get that this is real problem actually can help people feel reassured that someone gets the problem and is focused on dealing with it, which is actually a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Rishi Sunak distanced himself from Ms Braverman’s claim the country was facing an “invasion” by migrants – telling his cabinet that the UK will always be a “compassionate, welcoming country”.
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.
In remarks which followed the which saw the firebombing of a Dover immigration centre, she also said: “So let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress. The whole country knows that it is not true.”
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.
But former Brexit secretary David Frost defended Ms Braverman against an “almost obsessional pursuit” – saying her critics were being oversensitive about language.
Lord Frost said: “We have seen over the last couple of days what seems to me to be an almost obsessional pursuit of the home secretary who is dealing with a series of extremely difficult substantive problems. A pursuit on the basis of leaks … the usual oversensitivity about words.”
Hundreds of migrants have been moved from the Manston asylum processing centre in Kent following overcrowding, Mr Harper said on Wednesday – saying numbers had been “substantially” reduced.
There have been 4,000 people being held at the site designed for around 1,600 people in recent weeks. Some have spent several weeks at the facility designed to hold people for 24 hours.
Asked about overcrowding at Manston, Mr Harper said: “Over time we’ll be able to reduce the numbers in that camp … Progress is starting to be made but it is clearly not going to be solved overnight.”
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes has warned of “very serious cost implications” for the Home Office linked to decisions at the Manston centre, with Ms Braverman accused of illegally blocking the transfer of people into hotels.
The MP told Channel 4 News: “It’s perfectly possible that people who have no valid claim for asylum could be in receipt of compensation and claims because they have been kept in Manston … this is taxpayers’ money being spent that actually is to no good effect.”
Andy Baxter of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) warned of the potential for riots at the overcrowded Kent facility experiencing “pressure cooker” conditions.