Suella Braverman faces criticism for Channel migrant 'invasion' claim

Suella Braverman faced tough scrutiny on conduct while a migration crisis escalated out of control in Kent, ITV News deputy political editor Anushka Asthana reports

The home secretary has faced criticism after claiming there is an “invasion” of England by migrants crossing the Channel as she faced calls to quit during a stormy Commons appearance on Monday.

Charity Care4Calais called the comment "highly offensive", while Refugee Action claimed this language "puts so many people at risk".

Her remarks come just days after incendiary devices were thrown at the Western Jet Foil migrant processing centre in Dover and caused a fire.

Speaking in the Commons, Suella Braverman said around 40,000 people have arrived on the south coast of England in 2022, more than double the number of arrivals via the English Channel in 2021.

The home secretary, who was reappointed to the role just days after quitting, added: “Let’s be clear about what is really going on here: the British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast and which party is not. “Some 40,000 people have arrived on the south coast this year alone. Many of them facilitated by criminal gangs, some of them actual members of criminal gangs. “So let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress. The whole country knows that is not true. It’s only the honourable members opposite who pretend otherwise. “We need to be straight with the public. The system is broken. Illegal migration is out of control and too many people are interested in playing political parlour games, covering up the truth than solving the problem.”

Labour MPs heckled Ms Braverman, shouting that the Conservatives are responsible for such a state of affairs.

Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana said such language "whips up hate and spreads division".

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick on Tuesday defended the home secretary, saying she was "trying to explain the sheer challenge we face".

However, he appeared to distance himself from Ms Braverman's choice of words, saying: "As ministers in roles like those at the Home Office, we do have to choose our language carefully and none of us would want to see further attacks of the sort that we saw in Dover."

But ultimately, he said he doesn't regret her comments, adding: "I think that the home secretary was speaking for millions across the country.

"That is a phrase that many people would use who are extremely concerned to see tens of thousands crossing the Channel."

Several refugee charities have criticised Ms Braverman's language.

Refugee Action called the remarks "shameful" and claimed "this rhetoric puts so many people at risk".

The charity tweeted: "The day after a petrol bomb attack on innocent people the home secretary calls them invaders. "Shameful, shameful, shameful. This rhetoric puts so many people at risk. Refugees. Her department's staff. Our staff and volunteers. We are furious."

Care4Calais branded the comments "incredibly offensive".

Meanwhile, the home secretary insisted she never ignored legal advice or blocked plans to tackle overcrowding at a migrant holding centre as she faced critics in the Commons.

She denied accusations she failed to book hotels, which contributed to the overcrowding at Manston, and ignored legal advice which warned migrants were being detained for unlawfully long periods.

But she did admit she had "refused" to prematurely release people into the community without anywhere to stay.

Ms Braverman was defiant as she was grilled by MPs on Monday - claiming those who did not like her stance on migration were trying to "get rid" of her.

The crisis isn't over for Braverman as more questions are raised about her handling of politics and security, says Anushka Asthana

The Manston site is meant to be a processing centre, holding people for just 24 hours but evidence emerged of inhumane conditions, with some families held there for weeks, serious overcrowding, and disease.Ms Braverman said she was determined to address the backlog in asylum claims, and the number of migrants living in hotels.

She appeared to blame her predecessor Priti Patel for the cost of the government leaning so heavily on hotels for asylum seekers, but repeatedly denied she had blocked rooms.

In Dover, the system for handling migrants almost completely broke down in the wake of record numbers of asylum seekers, Rachel Younger reports

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

Describing the situation when she arrived in September, Ms Braverman added: “I was appalled to learn that there were over 35,000 migrants staying in hotel accommodation around the country at exorbitant cost to the taxpayer. I instigated an urgent review.”

She added: “We are also determined to address the wholly unacceptable situation which has left taxpayers with a bill of £6.8 million a day for hotel accommodation.”

The home secretary said the government has a "duty" to "ensure that anyone who has entered our country illegally undergoes essential security checks".

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said there has been a “total failure” to stop the proliferation of criminal gangs linked to small boat crossings.

The asylum seeker processing centre at Manston Credit: PA

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said as the home secretary, she was responsible for the crisis."That facility operated fantastically until five weeks ago, until the home secretary took the policy decision not to commission further accommodation. And it is that that has led to the crisis at Manston."Sir Roger had described the overcrowding at the facility in his North Thanet constituency as “wholly unacceptable” and suggested it may have been allowed to happen “deliberately”.

Ms Cooper raised allegations Ms Braverman was warned by officials and other ministers that she was “acting outside the law by failing to provide alternative accommodation”.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper. Credit: PA

“Can she confirm she turned down contingency plans that she was offered that would have reduced overcrowding, as the reports say?” the Labour MP asked her counterpart.

Ms Cooper said the home secretary has legal obligations under 1999 legislation and 2018 regulations, asking: “Can she confirm she was advised repeatedly that she was breaking the law by failing to agree to these plans?"

She said 4,000 people are on the site at Manston, which was designed to accommodate 1,600, adding: “Conditions have been described as inhumane with risks of fire, disorder and infection.

“There are confirmed diphtheria outbreaks, reports of scabies and MSRA outbreaks, also reports of outbreaks of violence and untrained staff.”

She said the Nationality and Borders Act and changes to immigration rules have “added further bureaucracy and delays, leading to tens of thousands more people waiting in asylum accommodation and more than £100 million extra on asylum accommodation bills because their policies are pushing up the use of hotels and the increase in delays”.

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It comes as the Channel crossing crisis deepened, amid growing concern over the conditions in which migrants are being held while waiting to be processed once they arrive in the UK, and after one of the sites in Dover was firebombed.

Allies of Ms Patel said she signed off on hotel accommodation for asylum seekers whenever it was required, despite it being politically “unpalatable”.

A source close to Ms Patel told ITV News: “No matter how unpalatable it was she always did it because not to do so would have breached statutory duties. We never breached statutory duties,” they said.

Despite the political difficulties, the cost to the taxpayer and the potential for a media backlash, Ms Patel agreed to hotels because “it was the right thing to do”.

However, a Home Office source said Ms Patel booked such rooms for a period, but then stopped months before resigning as home secretary.

Ms Braverman is also under fire for sending government documents to her personal email on six occasions.

She was reappointed by Rishi Sunak last week, only days after she resigned over a security breach when Liz Truss was prime minister.

The home secretary insisted none of the documents were classified as secret or top secret and “did not compromise national safety”.

Responding to SNP home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald, Ms Braverman replied: “I’ve apologised, I’ve taken responsibility and that’s why I resigned.

“I hope the House will see that I’m willing to apologise without hesitation for what I’ve done and any mistakes that I’ve made, but what I will not do, under any circumstances, is apologise for things that I haven’t done.

“It’s been said that I sent a top secret document, that’s wrong. It’s been said that I sent a document about cyber security, that’s wrong. It’s been said that I sent a document about the intelligence agencies that would compromise national security, that’s wrong. Wrong, wrong."