Priti Patel apologises after Tory rebels fighting refugee crackdown accused of being ‘on side of criminals’

Anger as MPs who oppose sending asylum seekers abroad for processing said to be ‘against vile people-trafficking’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 22 March 2022 15:16
Comments
BBC Breakfast shows live footage of asylum seekers crossing Channel

Priti Patel has been forced to apologise to Tory rebels opposing her new crackdown on asylum seekers after they were accused of being “on the side of criminals.”

“Allies” of the home secretary sparked anger when they briefed a friendly newspaper that Conservative MPs who vote with Labour are failing to “defend our national interest”.

Ahead of votes on the nationality and borders bill, one ally alleged: “Detractors of the Bill are taking the side of criminals in the fight against the vile people trafficking trade.”

Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister, protested to Ms Patel about the briefing, given to The Sun, and obtained an apology, The Independent understands.

The Bill will send asylum seekers abroad for processing – with the distant Ascension Island the likely destination – and criminalise those who arrive by unauthorised routes.

It could also potentially lead to Ukrainian refugees who arrive in the UK without the correct visa jailed for four years.

Mr Davis declined to comment on the apology he sought from the Home Office, but, speaking in the Commons, urged ministers to agree to resettle at least 10,000 refugees in the UK every year.

The idea is among a string of amendments passed in the House of Lords, which Tory MPs will be whipped to overturn in votes in the Commons later on Tuesday.

Mr Green said the Home Office’s own figures showed that 87 per cent of asylum seekers on small boats are coming from countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – where there are no “legal and safe routes”.

“The people coming across the Channel do not have these routes available to them,” he told ministers.

The Tory rebels believe the outpouring of public sympathy that has seen 150,000 Britons sign up to host refugees from Ukraine shows the nation’s mood is shifting on asylum seekers.

Their main target is the plan to “offshore” refugee applications by sending them to far-flung countries, although no country has yet agreed to accept them.

Andrew Mitchell, a former Cabinet minister, has branded the policy “a moral, financial and practical failure”, arguing it would involve building a “British Guantanamo Bay” and cost £2m per asylum seeker.

David Davis, a second cabinet veteran, has said: “I find it hard to imagine that in the current climate they are going to send Ukrainian asylum seekers offshore if they arrive here by boat.

“If you can’t do it to a Ukrainian asylum seeker, how are you going to do it to anyone else?”

However, Ms Patel is standing firm, insisting the Australian-style offshore processing centres will be a deterrent to stem record Channel crossings by asylum seekers.

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