Minister defends Lee Anderson over ‘f*** off back to France’ comment on migrants shunning barge

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has defended Lee Anderson after the Conservative Party deputy chairman said asylum seekers complaining about the Bibby Stockholm barge should “f*** off back to France”.

Mr Chalk said the “indignation” of the Ashfield MP was “well placed” after just 15 migrants entered the floating accommodation off the Dorset coast on Monday.

The Government has said the barge, which was initially designed to fit about 200 people, has a 500-person capacity.

But the transfer of migrants on to the vessel has been mired in difficulty and delays amid safety concerns, local opposition and legal challenges.

Mr Chalk told LBC: “Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms, that’s his style, but his indignation is well placed.”

The Justice Secretary said France is a safe country and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

“People should claim asylum in the first country – it’s not like there should be an open shopping list of where you want to go,” he said.

“He expresses himself in his characteristically robust terms but there is a lot of sense, in my respectful view, in what Lee says.”

Around 20 migrants did not board the Bibby Stockholm on Monday because their transfers were cancelled after lawyers challenged the decisions.

On those complaining about the accommodation, Mr Anderson told “If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France.”

He added: “I think people have just had enough.

“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.”

Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan accused the Government of stoking “division and hate” with the comments.

He said in a tweet: “Language matters. This lot have been in Government for 13 years. After their abject failure all that’s left is stoking up more division and hate. We deserve so much better.”

The Liberal Democrats branded Mr Chalk’s defence of the remarks “toe-curling” and alluded to the party targeting his marginal Cheltenham seat at the next election.

The party’s home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Alex Chalk’s toe-curling interview was yet another sign of how weak this Government has become.

“Lifelong Conservative voters expect decent and respectful political debate, something completely lacking amongst Conservative MPs.

“People in Blue Wall Cheltenham would have been spitting out their cornflakes listening to Alex Chalk this morning.”

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, currently an Independent MP, wrote on Twitter: “A new low even for the Tories.”

But Mr Anderson doubled down on his comment, responding to Ms Abbott’s tweet by implying that the people he told to return to France were “not genuine asylum seekers”.

“Wrong again… I told illegal migrants to go back to France, not genuine asylum seekers,” he wrote.

Decisions have not yet been made on the applications of those being transferred on to Bibby Stockholm, meaning it is currently not possible to confirm whether they have been deemed “genuine” or not.

Freedom from Torture, a refugee charity, said the “dehumanising and inflammatory” language puts people seeking sanctuary in the UK at “real risk”.

Natasha Tsangarides, associate director of advocacy for the organisation, said: “Time and time again, we’re seeing Government ministers amping up the cruelty of their anti-refugee rhetoric to distract from their own catastrophic mismanagement of both the asylum system and of this country.

“The dehumanising and inflammatory language used by certain politicians is putting people seeking sanctuary in this country at real risk, including the survivors that Freedom from Torture treat every day.”

Home Office figures released on Monday showed that the number of asylum seekers being housed in temporary hotel accommodation passed 50,000 in June this year – up by around 10,000 from December.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jessica Taylor / PA.