Lee Anderson tells asylum seekers to ‘f*** off back to France’ if they don’t like barges

Senior Tories share fury as 20 migrants granted last-minute reprieve following legal challenges

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 08 August 2023 14:41 BST
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Tory cabinet minister backs Lee Anderson’s ‘salty’ comments

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The Conservative party’s deputy chairman Lee Anderson said asylum seekers complaining about being moved into the Bibby Stockholm barge should “f*** off back to France”.

The senior Tory’s incendiary comments came after the first 15 migrants boarded the barge in Dorset, while 20 others were granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.

Care4Calais said they did not board the barge because their transfers were “cancelled” after lawyers challenged the decisions. The campaign group described the barge as a “quasi floating prison”.

“If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France,” Mr Anderson told the Express.

He added: “These people come across the Channel in small boats, if they don’t like the conditions they are housed in here then they should go back to France, or better not come at all in the first place.”

Justice secretary Alex Chalk defended his colleague Mr Anderson’s “f*** off back to France” comment – arguing that it was “salty” language but his point was “not unreasonable”.

Going further, Mr Chalk also told LBC that the deputy Tory chair “expresses the righteous indignation of the British people” and said his “indignation is well placed”.

No 10 also Mr Anderson after he said asylum seekers when asked if “f*** off back to France” represented the view of the government.

Pointed to comments made by Mr Chalk, the Downing Street spokesperson said: “The justice secretary was speaking on behalf of the government. That is the response.”

Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan accused the government of stoking “division and hate”, while Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said Mr Chalk’s defence of Mr Anderson was “toe-curling”.

Georgie Laming of the at Hope not Hate group said it was “morally reprehensible” for the top Tory cabinet minister to have defended Mr Anderson’s inflammatory remarks. “The Conservative party is rapidly adopting dangerous and divisive tactics,” she said.

Cabinet minister backs Lee Anderson’s ‘salty’ comment

Mr Anderson was unrepentant. Responding to Diane Abbott, the MP currently suspended by Labour, who called the comments a “new low”, the Tory deputy chair tweeted: “Wrong again. I told illegal migrants to go back to France not genuine asylum seekers.”

Disabled asylum seekers, torture victims and those suffering from “traumatic experiences at sea” were among those the Home Office initially tried to put on the Portland barge.

The Independent understands that a man who is blind in one eye, another partially-sighted person, and migrants with phobias of water were issued with transfer orders that were successfully challenged by lawyers.

But Tory right-wingers have reacted with fury to the hold-up. Ex-home secretary Priti Patel said campaigners and lawyers were “milking the legal aid system” and the same “naysayers and left-wingers who have sought to smear our Rwanda policy”.

15 migrants arrive at Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset
15 migrants arrive at Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset (Getty Images)

Home Office sources said those refusing to leave hotels and board the barge could have their asylum application delayed or withdrawn after one day.

“Anyone refusing to move without a reasonable excuse has 24 hours to reconsider, after which their asylum support will cease and they will have to fend for themselves,” one government source told The Telegraph.

Mr Chalk said the asylum seekers’ legal challenges were “not improper” but are “completely misconceived”.

The justice secretary also said it was “unlikely” to be illegal for the government to refuse asylum seekers accommodation if they refuse to go on the barge.

A small group of 15 migrants arrived on Monday following delays caused by last-minute safety checks. The government is not believed to have identified all 500 people it eventually hopes to house on board.

Home Office minister Sarah Dines had suggest all 500 could be on board by the end of this week – but No 10 later played down the idea.

First arrivals on controversial barge
First arrivals on controversial barge (AFP via Getty Images)

The charity Migrants Organise has sent a pre-action letter to the Home Office calling for it to stop transfers “until and unless all concerns regarding the safety and suitability of the barge have been adequately addressed”.

Internal guidance states that only single men up to the age 65 can be put on the Bibby Stockholm, and they cannot be victims of modern slavery or trafficking. They cannot be disabled, elderly, or victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence.

Mr Chalk acknowledged it is “frustrating” that only 15 migrants have boarded the 500-capacity barge so far. “It doesn’t diminish our resolve to solve this,” he told BBC Breakfast.

The cabinet minister also told Times Radio that the point of the “austere” Bibby Stockholm is to act as a deterrent. He said the government spending £6m a day on “4-star hotel accommodation” for asylum seekers is not what the British people want.

But campaign groups One Life to Live and Reclaim the Sea have estimated that the barge will cost £18m a year, saying it would “almost certainly” cost more than housing migrants in hotels.

The number of asylum seekers in hotels has risen by a 25 per cent since Rishi Sunak promised to end the practice. There were 50,546 migrants in hotels, according to the latest Home Office figures for June, up from around 40,000 in December.

Suella Braverman announces crackdown on ‘crooked’ lawyers
Suella Braverman announces crackdown on ‘crooked’ lawyers (PA Wire)

The controversy comes as the government announced a new “task force” to identify “crooked” lawyers after reports that false asylum claims are being submitted for a fee.

Home secretary Suella Braverman, speaking about the task force, said: “Crooked immigration lawyers must be rooted out and brought to justice.”

Any lawyers – or any other professionals who help migrants make fraudulent claims – could face a maximum sentence of life in prison following the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act.

It comes after the Daily Mail reported that a number of solicitors agreed to help an undercover journalist posing as an economic migrant submit a false application in exchange for thousands of pounds.

But the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said the necessary powers are already in place to deal with immigration advisers engaged in misconduct.

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