David Cameron accused of trying to deflect attention from Google tax row with 'bunch of migrants' remark

Prime Minister accused of 'dead cat' strategy by deliberately using inflammatory language against refugees

Wednesday 27 January 2016 20:48
David Cameron gestures during Prime Minister's Questions
David Cameron gestures during Prime Minister's Questions

David Cameron has been accused of deliberately using inflammatory language against refugees to distract attention from the Google tax row.

The Prime Minister has attracted widespread condemnation for referring to people living in refugee in camps in Calais as a “bunch of migrants”

But rather than being a ‘gaffe’, the Mr Cameron’s dismissive remark appeared to be part of a reply scripted in advance to deflect attention away from issues that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used to attack the government during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Conservative election campaign manager Lynton Crosby is a known advocate of such a “dead cat” strategy - the idea of “throwing a dead cat on the table” to distract people from a topic you wish they would stop discussing.

Alex Salmond, the SNP spokesman open foreign affairs, suggested that the remark was a calculated attempt to change subject.

He said: “A lot of people, including myself, have got a bit of a theory that Cameron does this when he’s trying to deflect attention from other things, because he was in trouble on the Google tax deal today. So all of a sudden he comes out with this phrase.

David Cameron refers to Calais as 'bunch of migrants'

“Now most stuff at Prime Minister’s Questions is rehearsed, so my charge against David Cameron is not just he’s describing people in pretty disgusting terms, but he’s doing it deliberately.”

Under attack over the government’s record, Mr Cameron turned on Mr Corbyn and the shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. “Look at their record over the last week,” he told MPs. “They met the unions and they gave them flying pickets. They met the Argentinians; they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met a bunch of migrants in Calais; they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hard-working taxpayers.”

Alex Salmond, right, believes the Prime Minister was trying to deflect attention away from the Government's dealings with Google (Getty)

His words provoked an instant reaction, with some MPs shouting “bunch of migrants?” in apparent shock.

After the exchange, the Labour MP Yvette Cooper protested to the Speaker, John Bercow, about the Prime Minister’s choice of words. She called for Mr Cameron to “withdraw that language and use much more statesmanlike language about the need to build a cross-party consensus on such a complex and sensitive issue.”

The Prime Minister’s comments were also condemned by groups working with refugees. Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy for the Refugee Council, said: “When we are facing the greatest refugee crisis of our time, it is disappointing the Prime Minister is using flippant remarks to score political points.

“We have all seen the pictures of the desperate conditions people are living in across Europe, including just miles from the UK’s border. The Prime Minister should be showing political leadership and work with other European countries to ensure that people can live in safety and dignity.”

Former shadow cabinet minister Chuka Umunna described the remark as “shameful” and “inflammatory and unbecoming of his office”.

But the Business Minister Anna Soubry said she did not believe that the Prime Minister had planned to use the word ‘bunch’.

She told the BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “What everybody forgets is that in the heat of things one says things that you might say in a conversation, by way of example, but you wouldn’t necessarily say when it was analysed and picked apart.” Mr Corbyn visited migrant camps in Calais and Dunkirk at the weekend and called for the UK to be “a bit more human” about allowing them into the country – though he stressed that he was not saying that all 9,000 people in French camps should be admitted.

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