Rishi Sunak appears to defend Suella Braverman's small boats 'invasion' comments

Rishi Sunak appeared to defend the home secretary's 'invasion' claims on small boat arrivals Credit: PA

By Lucy McDaid, ITV News Westminster Producer

Rishi Sunak has appeared to defend the home secretary's use of the term 'invasion' to describe the arrival of asylum seekers into the UK on small boats.

Under questioning by MPs on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister said "it's very clear that the scale of the problem is significant and growing".

Mr Sunak was asked by the chair of the Home Affairs Committee: "Is it politically charged to use the word 'invasion' in relation to the small boats problem?"

The PM refused to answer the question directly, instead appearing to defend Home Secretary Suella Braverman's use of language by stressing the "scale" of the crisis in the English Channel.

'It's very clear that the scale of the problem is significant and growing', says Rishi Sunak

"What I would say is the situation is one that's significant and growing, and it's important that we take action to stop it," Mr Sunak said to MPs.

"When you've had a quadrupling, or quintupling, of the number of illegal arrivals in the space of just two years, it's important to actually recognise the pace of what's happening and that's a very large number and it's growing very quickly," he responded.

Dame Diana Johnson, who was leading the interrogation on small boats, disagreed and said it is "politically charged to use the word invasion" and "we know you said that type of word inflames people and gets the fair right particularly inflamed."

She added: "Language matters, doesn't it, prime minister?"

While appearing in front of the Liaison Committee, Mr Sunak also denied that the home secretary is expecting deportation flights to Rwanda to leave before the summer.

Earlier this month, a Home Office source said the department was "working towards getting the flights off before the summer" but did acknowledge this was dependent on legal battles.

When asked on Tuesday afternoon about the timeline, Mr Sunak said: "No one has promised flights by the summer...what we have said is we will start flights as soon as we can after legal proceedings have completed."

'No-one has promised flights by the summer', claims Mr Sunak

The government's Bill to stop small boats crossing the English Channel was also the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, with one MP telling Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick "to take a long, hard look" at himself over plans to deport child migrants who arrive via the Channel.

Mr Jenrick conceded the number of unaccompanied minors arriving by boat is "a serious situation," but added it "places a great strain on our system".

Mr Sunak similarly defended the plans on Tuesday, arguing his new policy should not act as an "incentive" for people to bring small children to the UK in boats.

He said: "The intention of this policy is not to detain children but it's important that we don't inadvertently create a policy that incentivises people to bring children who wouldn't otherwise come here.

"Otherwise you create an incentive for a criminal gang to bring a child with them when they otherwise wouldn't be, and I don't think that is a good thing."

Ministers are urged 'to take a long, hard look' at themselves over small boats bill

The legislation currently being debated in Parliament means people arriving illegally and seeking asylum in the UK could be detained indefinitely until they are removed to a "safe" place like Rwanda.

Former Conservative prime minister Theresa May also denounced the plans in the Commons, arguing that victims of modern slavery should be excluded from the new Bill and given temporary protection from deportation, as is currently given to suspected victims.

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