Minister defends Sunak language on migrants after Rome speech

Rishi Sunak was ‘absolutely right’ to warn that illegal migration could ‘overwhelm’ European states, the Deputy Prime Minister has said.

Dominic McGrath
Sunday 17 December 2023 11:27 GMT
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with Rishi Sunak in Rome on Saturday (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with Rishi Sunak in Rome on Saturday (Alessandra Tarantino/AP) (AP)

Rishi Sunak was “absolutely right” to warn that illegal migration could “overwhelm” European states, the Deputy Prime Minister has said.

The Prime Minister used a gathering of Italian conservatives and right-wingers in Rome to issue a stark warning of the threat posed by illegal migration as he suggested that changes to global refugee rules might be needed.

The comments, to members of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s party, raised questions once again about the type of language used by top Conservatives to describe migrants.

In October, former home secretary Suella Braverman drew criticism after she warned that a “hurricane” of mass migration is coming.

Appearing on Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips on Sky News, Oliver Dowden defended the Prime Minister.

He said: “I think the Prime Minister is absolutely right to issue this warning, and indeed it’s not just a warning, it’s something that we have seen elsewhere – we have seen the weaponisation of migration, for example, in the conduct of Belarus in relation to Poland, there’s been warnings from Finland in respect of the conduct of Russia.

“There’s a broader point here, which is that we do have to reassure people that we have got control of our borders and we cannot have this unsustainable situation where we’re enriching people smugglers – the worst people on the earth.”

Mr Sunak’s trip to Rome, where he received a warm welcome from Ms Meloni, came in a week in which ministers moved a step forward in efforts to revive the Rwanda scheme, declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Despite speculation of a major rebellion by Tory MPs, the Prime Minister comfortably won a key Commons vote on legislation designed to insulate the scheme from legal challenges.

Mr Dowden echoed other ministers in indicating that the Government could be open to compromise over amendments during the upcoming parliamentary stages.

He said: “We will listen to our colleagues about how we can improve this legislation, of course we will.

“I think this is a good piece of legislation that does the job, which is about ensuring that we control migration.”

Mr Dowden added: “Of course, we don’t rule out amendments and, of course, we will engage with that – that’s what happens with any piece of parliamentary legislation.

“What I would say, though, is that the Prime Minister is a pretty rigorous person, he’s looked through this very carefully, turned it upside down, shaken it around, he’s pretty sure this is the best thing we can get.

“But, of course, if there are other ways of improving it, we’ll be open to doing that.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting took aim at Mr Sunak over the speech in Rome.

“I thought that was a stunning admission of failure,” he said.

“This is the guy who says, ‘One of my priorities is to stop the boats, I’m doing a really great job’, and then the next minute he’s off to Italy to say the quiet bit out loud to all of his right-wing chums from across Europe, which is that he’s failed.

“He’s failed both to manage an immigration system that works for legal migration, he’s failed to tackle illegal migration and meanwhile he’s pulling his own party apart with this spectacular circus we saw this week over a policy that will not work and is costing us hundreds of millions of pounds already and threatens to offer us hundreds of millions of pounds more.”

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