Labour MP compares government's rhetoric on immigration to the far-right

·4-min read
A group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent, by Border Force officers following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Tuesday July 20, 2021.
A group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent, by Border Force officers following an incident in the Channel. (PA)

The government's rhetoric on immigration is no better than that of the far-right, a Labour MP has warned.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell compared ministers' language to that of the far-right English Defence League.

His comments came as the government faced criticism over a proposed policy, part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, that would see refugees denied asylum if they entered the UK illegally via a “safe” country.

Attacking Tory MPs' speeches during the Commons debate over the bill, McDonnell said: “I hope anyone watching who actually participated in this debate wakes up to the depths some of the speeches have sunk to in the last couple of days.

Watch: Migrants brought ashore in Dover by UK Border Force

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“Yes, some are inspiring, but some, I have to say, wouldn’t go amiss at an English Defence League meeting.”

During the debate, Conservative MP Christian Wakeford claimed asylum seekers travelling through several safe countries before reaching the UK have a “shopping trolley as to what they want”.

He told the Commons: “These asylum seekers aren’t just travelling through one safe country, they’re very often travelling through many safe countries – essentially having a shopping trolley as to what they want, economic migration.

“So the best way to actually deal with this is to deal with the issue and have a meaningful policy, which is what this is for."

 Migrants brought on shore by the border force at Dover port.
Increasing numbers of migrants have been sailing in small boats out of French territorial waters into the English Channel where they are legally brought ashore by the UK border force. The migrants are then able to seek for asylum in the UK. (Photo by Edward Crawford / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Migrants brought on shore by the Border Force at Dover port. (PA)

Conservative Damian Collins said the UK needed to make it clear that illegal entry was not a “shortcut to residency in this country”.

He said: “We need to make it clear to the people traffickers who prey on vulnerable people for profit that they will face tough sentences for bringing people illegally into this country.

“We need to close down these illegal crossing points which are incredibly dangerous, are profiting criminal gangs and are rightly concerning to people who live on the Kent coast... and give people safe routes to this country and safe ways to claim asylum.”

During the debate, Tory MP Shaun Bailey defended his constituents in West Bromwich West for worrying about migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, saying they are not racist for doing so.

He told MPs that people in areas of his constituency, like Princes End in Tipton, felt as if Parliament was “talking at them”, not to them.

He said: “There are people there in Princes End who quite frankly feel, and from listening to the debate today, that this House is just talking at them and they feel that this place thinks – and these are the people that are raising these concerns on small boats with me – that they are racist, they are bigoted.

Watch: People smugglers to face life sentences under new border rules

“No they are not. They are just concerned about the country they are in. They are angry at what they see.

“It is absolutely wrong they are rubbished like that, because their opinion matters just as much as anyone else, and that is the frustration that comes through in my mailbox.

“It makes me so angry, particularly with the Labour Party that purports to represent this community for 50 years, that they sit here now and rubbish them.”

However, the Conservatives also faced fierce opposition from other parties, with former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron calling the argument that the UK immigration system is overwhelmed by asylum seekers “bogus nonsense”.

"The notion that we are overwhelmed with asylum seekers is bogus nonsense, it is not true and yet it is the premise that much of this bill is written on,” he said.

“Now, there is a problem with the asylum system and that is that there is a colossal backlog.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party accused the government of “dog whistle” politics.

A shore recovery tractor tows the Dungeness lifeboat to the beach after it returned carrying people thought to be migrants crossing from France, picked-up following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Tuesday July 20, 2021.
A shore recovery tractor tows the Dungeness lifeboat to the beach after it returned carrying people thought to be migrants crossing from France. (PA)

Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens told the Commons: “I am afraid this bill exposes the Conservative Party in all its guises, because this bill is the politics of the dog whistle.”

McDonnell had earlier called on MPs to understand why it was “mainly young men” who made it to the UK as migrants.

He said: “It is because families come together and they are desperate. They have tried various routes out of the terrible situation they are in and they realise there is only realistically one way of getting out and that is the illegal route for most of them.

“And they will club together and what will parents do? They will choose their child to go for safety so that there is some future for them. And usually, yes, it is a young man, but often young women as well.”

Watch: Footage shows several suspected migrants arriving on Kent coast

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