Downing Street backs Lee Anderson’s ‘go back to France’ comment

Politics

Downing Street has defended Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson after he said asylum seekers who don’t want to be housed in barges should “f*** off back to France”.

When asked if this view represented the government, Number 10 pointed to comments made by Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, who said the “indignation” of the Ashfield MP was well placed.

“The justice secretary was speaking on behalf of the government. That is the response,” the spokesperson told Sky News.

Politics live: Minister defends senior Tory’s ‘salty’ comments about migrants

Mr Anderson made the incendiary remarks after it emerged 20 asylum seekers were granted a last-minute reprieve from boarding the Bibby Stockholm accommodation vessel on Monday.

The charity Care4Calais said their transfers from hotels were “cancelled” after lawyers challenged the decision.

Tory MP Mr Anderson told Express.co.uk: “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.”

The intervention by lawyers meant just 15 migrants entered the floating accommodation off the Dorset coast on Monday.

The Bibby Stockholm will ultimately hold 500 single male asylum seekers under plans to reduce reliance on expensive hotels – but transferring migrants to the vessel has been mired in difficulty and delays amid safety concerns and local opposition.

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20 asylum seekers did not board the Bibby Stockholm after 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.”

He added that 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.”

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Mr Anderson has a history of making controversial comments, including saying that people who use food banks can’t cook properly.

London Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned his latest remarks and accused the government of stoking divisions.

He tweeted: “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.”

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems called Mr Chalk’s defence of Mr Anderson “toe curling” and “another sign of how weak this government has become”.

Home Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “Lifelong Conservative voters expect decent and respectful political debate, something completely lacking amongst Conservative MPs.

“This Conservative government has made a complete hash of our asylum system after Priti Patel blocked resources to deal with the record 180,000 backlog in cases. This is a mess of their own making.”

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