By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON, Oct 31 (Reuters) – British Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the country faces an “invasion” from people travelling in small boats crossing the English Channel as she fought back against mounting pressure over her repeated security breaches.
Braverman was reappointed interior minister by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week, six days after she resigned from the same role for sending a government document from her personal email to an employee of a member of parliament in breach of rules for ministers.
Speaking to parliament over allegedly failing to listen to legal advice on the prolonged detention of migrants at an asylum processing centre in southern England, Braverman said the current system is “broken” and “out of control”.
“Let’s stop pretending they are all refugees in distress, the whole country knows that is not true,” she said.
The comments came a day after a man threw petrol bombs attached to fireworks at an immigration centre in the southern English port of Dover on Sunday before killing himself.
Sunak, who became Britain’s third prime minister in two months last week, has seen his early days in office overshadowed by the row about her reappointment.
Opposition parties and even some members of parliament in the governing Conservative Party have questioned Braverman’s suitability for the role. Tommy Sheppard, a member of parliament for the Scottish National Party (SNP), accused her of “far-right and inflammatory rhetoric”.
On Monday, Braverman acknowledged she had sent official government documents to her personal email address six times, raising fresh concerns about breaches of ministerial rules while in charge of the nation’s security.
“POLITICAL WITCH HUNT”
Braverman defended her decision to keep thousands of people at a migrant centre in Kent after some of her colleagues accused her of deliberately ignoring legal advice to transfer people from the site to hotels.
Conditions at the site at Manston in Kent were last week described by Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal as “pretty wretched”.
Intended to house around 1,500 migrants for less than 24 hours at a time, numbers have swelled to more than double that, with one Afghan family saying they had been there for 32 days.
During the debate in parliament, Braverman said she agreed with a lawmaker who said migrants can “get on a dinghy and go straight back to France” if they believed the accommodation in Britain was not good enough.
Kim Johnson, a lawmaker said for the main opposition Labour Party, said Braverman’s language would embolden racists and extremists to attack vulnerable asylum seekers.
Anne McLaughlin, an SNP member of parliament, said she was “disgusted, absolutely disgusted to hear a home secretary deliberately use inflammatory language about vulnerable asylum seekers”. She called the remarks shameful.
A record number of asylum seekers have arrived in Britain on small boats across the Channel this year, with government figures showing more than 39,000 have arrived so far this year, up from 28,526 last year – with the highest number from Iran followed by Iraq, Eritrea and Syria.
The government says that 90% of the asylum seekers who make the journey are men, many of them economic migrants rather than genuine refugees.
About a fifth of British voters say dealing with immigration is the most challenging issue facing the country, according to a YouGov poll published this month.
Braverman, who is in charge of the ministry responsible for policing and immigration, said she was facing a “political witch hunt” from opponents.
She supports Britain’s exit from the European Convention on Human Rights, which she views as the only way the country can solve its immigration problems, and says it was her “dream” to see a flight deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda take off.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Nick Macfie, Angus MacSwan and Josie Kao)