Downing Street has distanced itself from a Home Office minister who criticised the “cheek” of complaints from people arriving in the country “illegally” about processing centre conditions.
In a statement, Number 10 stressed that migrants “deserve to be treated with compassion and respect”. It comes amid overcrowding chaos at the Manston holding centre in Kent, where at one point as many as 4,000 people were being detained for weeks in a site intended to hold 1,600 for a matter of days.
Home Officer minister Chris Philp criticised migrants complaining about the conditions at Manston during an interview with Times Radio. He appeared on the radio programme earlier today (4 November).
Philp said: “If people choose to enter a country illegally, and unnecessarily, it is a bit, you know, it’s a bit of a cheek to then start complaining about the conditions when you’ve illegally entered a country without necessity.”
The Home Office is facing legal action over the “egregiously defective conditions” at Manston migrant processing centre. Lawyers on behalf of human rights charity Detention Action, who are representing a woman being held at the facility, sent an urgent, pre-action letter to Suella Braverman on 1 November.
Has Downing Street responded to Mr Philip’s statement?
When asked if Philp was speaking for the Government, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “I haven’t spoken to the Prime Minister about that specifically. Certainly it is true that Home Office border force officials and many others are working hard to provide safe, secure accommodation for those individuals that come via these routes.
“As we’ve been clear, those individuals deserve to be treated with compassion and respect. Obviously the current approach is not working and it is placing huge pressures – both in terms of on the Government and on the local area – and that is presenting significant challenges, which is why we continue to work both with French colleagues and more broadly to try and resolve this issue.”
How have others reacted?
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said Philp’s comments “reveal a shocking and callous complacency over the disaster unfolding at Manston.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale told the PA news agency he could see where Philp was “coming from” in respect to people “perfectly capable of fending for themselves” crossing the Channel to the UK. But he said in his opinion it is not a “cheek” to say children and women should be “treated humanely”.
On Thursday, Government minister Graham Stuart conceded Manston was not operating legally and “none of us are comfortable with it”, but sought to blame an “unacceptable surge” in small boat crossings for the problem, adding that the “system is struggling to cope”.
This followed on from similar suggestions from immigration minister Robert Jenrick earlier in the week. But on Friday, policing minister Mr Philp insisted the opposite, telling Sky News: “I don’t accept the premise that it is not legally compliant today, a lot of change has been made even in the last few days since you spoke to Robert,” adding that “significant improvements” have been made.
Numbers fall at heavily criticised Manston holding centre
Downing Street said the number of people at Manston has fallen to 2,600, with 1,200 taken off the site within the last four days. Sir Roger said the aim is to reduce the number to 1,500 by the end of the day, which would bring it under its maximum capacity of 1,600.
The Home Secretary toured immigration centres on Thursday as she battled to grip the migrant crisis and in the face of threats of legal action over Manston, sexual assault allegations at a hotel housing asylum seekers and international criticism of her use of language. Suella Braverman, who was reinstated to her ministerial post just over a week ago, met Border Force teams in Dover to discuss Channel crossings operations before visiting the scandal-hit Manston processing centre to hear updates from staff but dodged questions from the press.
Gale said Braverman was “very thorough” during her visit to Manston, looking at “everything there was to be looked at” and asking “a lot of questions”. He added: “I hope she’s got now a proper idea of what it was all about.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has taken urgent decisions to alleviate issues at Manston using all the legal powers available and sourcing alternative accommodation. The welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance and asylum seekers are only released from Manston when they have assured us that they have accommodation to go to – to suggest otherwise is wrong and misleading.”