These Tory MPs wanted an asylum clampdown. Just not in their own backyard

These Tory MPs wanted an asylum clampdown. Just not in their own backyard
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 04 April 2023 05:09

Rishi Sunak is facing a backlash to his plan to stop cross-Channel migration from usually-supportive MPs


LONDON — Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservatives are desperate to “stop the boats.” They seem less happy when his plan to end cross-Channel migration impacts on their own leafy constituencies.

The U.K. prime minister unveiled proposals last month to house thousands of asylum seekers in ex-army barracks, one of a spate of announcements designed to deter the wave of small boats bringing undocumented migrants across the English Channel.

The U.K. is even mulling the prospect of “accommodating migrants in vessels” — which could take the form of giant barges out at sea, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, confirmed last month.

Sunak has put cutting illegal migration at the top of his in-tray after a record 45,755 people made the dangerous crossing last year.

The proposals were warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Tory MPs — until details were announced of where the thousands of asylum seekers will actually be housed.

Sunak had vowed to show “leadership” by ensuring some of the asylum seekers are housed in an army barracks in his own Richmond constituency. But he is now facing a backlash from a group of usually-supportive MPs — including, awkwardly, senior ministers in his own government — who claim the sites proposed for their own constituencies are, funnily enough, not appropriate for such a use.

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to five flip-flopping Tory MPs whose constituencies find themselves at the epicenter of Sunak’s “stop the boats” agenda.

James Cleverly, foreign secretary and Braintree MP

Stop the boats! “We have got to get a grip of the international trade in human misery, these people traffickers who are putting lives at risk by facilitating the illegal crossing of migrants into the U.K.” Cleverly told Sky News on November 14.

Like most Conservative MPs, Cleverly voted for the Illegal Migration Bill as it passed the Commons at second reading in March.

But but but: Amid reports the government planned to use a former RAF base in his Braintree constituency to house asylum seekers, Cleverly took to Facebook to reassure constituents that he had told government colleagues the site “wasn’t appropriate for asylum accommodation.”

Following Home Office confirmation that the site was to be used anyway, the Cabinet minister was back with an update. The decision, he admitted, “isn’t the result my constituents and I wanted.”

“I have made my views on the site clear from the beginning,” Cleverly added. Hundreds of angry constituents also made their views clear in the post’s comment section.

Edward Leigh, Tory grandee

Stop the boats! Tory veteran Edward Leigh, an MP since 1983, is no stranger to radical solutions for solving the migrant crisis. In a now-deleted 2020 tweet, he proposed re-taking Calais from the French.

More recently, he told the Lincolnite local newspaper that the U.K. has “got to detain people because if we’re weak, there will be a terrible tragedy in the winter.” He also voted for the Illegal Migration Bill at second reading.

But but but: After Jenrick announced that between 1,500 to 2,000 asylum seekers would be housed at the RAF Scampton site in Leigh’s Lincolnshire constituency, the MP vowed his area would fight the decision tooth and nail.

“The local authority of West Lindsey will issue an immediate judicial review and injunction against this thoroughly bad decision, which is based not on good governance, but on the politics of trying to do something,” Leigh told the Commons.

Richard Drax, grumpy backbencher

Stop the boats! “It’s essential we stop the boats and have a safe, legal way for genuine asylum seekers to come to this country,” Drax wrote in his local Dorset Echo newspaper at the start of the year. Drax also voted for the Illegal Migration Bill at second reading.

But but but: The MP’s tone was suddenly less positive when the Sun on Sunday reported that the government’s first floating barge for housing asylum seekers could be moored off the coast in Dorset.

“We are a sensitive seaside town and this is entirely unsuitable,” he told the newspaper, adding that his local council is “considering a legal challenge” if the government barged ahead with its plans.

Huw Merriman, rail minister

Conservative party MP Huw Merriman isn’t a fan of the suggestion that his East Sussex constituency could be used to house asylum seekers | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Stop the boats! At the start of March, Merriman outlined his support for the government’s latest proposals — which he also voted for in the Commons. “Small boat crossings are of great concern to local residents,” he wrote. “The new Illegal Migration Bill seeks to deal with this issue.”

But but but: When Jenrick announced a site in Merriman’s East Sussex constituency would be used to house asylum seekers, the rail minister sounded less assured “I know that this decision will have an impact on local authorities and public services. It will also be of great concern to local residents,” he said.

Priti Patel, former home secretary

Stop the boats! When Boris Johnson made her home secretary in 2019, Priti Patel was given the unenviable task of thwarting cross-Channel migration. She promised to make the crossings “unviable” and signed off the Rwanda asylum plan, which remains government policy.

Having left office in 2022 with the number of crossings far higher than they were when she began, Patel has been noticeably cooler on Sunak’s latest plans. She abstained in the vote on the Illegal Migration Bill.

But but but: As an MP in Essex — like Cleverly — Patel also raised concern about the proposed use of the former RAF Wethersfield base near Braintree. “Why is it deemed appropriate for asylum seeker accommodation for single men to be placed in a rural village in Essex,” she asked, “where there is no infrastructure and no amenities?” Answer came there none.

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