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UK home secretary Suella Braverman said a “hurricane” of migrants was threatening to enter the country in a speech to Conservative party members that sparked an angry backlash from critics.
Her comments followed a divisive speech by justice secretary Alex Chalk, who announced the government was looking into renting prison space overseas in an effort to stem capacity problems.
Braverman, who has drawn criticism from some in her party over her hardline rhetoric, on Tuesday claimed immigration into the UK would become “uncontrolled and unmanageable” without the Tories in government.
The home secretary is among a handful of ministers in Rishi Sunak’s government who are vying to position themselves as future leaders as the Conservatives head into a tough re-election battle from a trailing position in the polls.
In a speech that won a standing ovation at party conference in Manchester, Braverman said the Tories had been “far too squeamish about being smeared as racist to properly bring order to the chaos” affecting migration to the UK.
“The wind of change that carried my own parents across the globe in the 20th century was a mere gust compared to the hurricane that is coming,” she added.
The speech sparked fierce criticism from human rights groups and opposition MPs over her rhetoric and the absence in her speech of an acknowledgment of her own party’s failures in managing Britain’s beleaguered asylum system.
Natasha Tsangarides, associate director of advocacy at Freedom from Torture, a campaigning group, accused Braverman of using “marginalised groups as cannon fodder to win cheap political points”.
“The home secretary revealed herself to be grossly out of touch with the millions of compassionate people up and down the country who recognise that human rights are there to protect us all,” she said.
Railing against the “privileged woke minority” with “luxury beliefs”, Braverman said the government would “soon begin closing down asylum hotels”, where thousands of people continue to be housed in the UK.
The backlog in asylum applications, which has swelled from 19,000 in 2010 to 175,000 this year, is now costing the UK £8mn a day in hotel costs alone.
Echoing a controversial speech she made last week in Washington, Braverman referred to “bogus asylum seekers” who she claimed were coming to the UK simply to seek better jobs and pay.
“Nobody can deny that there are far, far more people in poorer countries who would love to move to Britain than could ever be accommodated,” she said, adding “demand will always outstrip supply”.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said Braverman was “divorced from the reality of Tory failure over the last 13 years”.
“The country deserves a home secretary who cares more about tackling the problems facing the country than launching a Tory leadership bid,” she added.
The home secretary also followed other cabinet ministers in attempting to use the topic of gender self-identification to drive a wedge between their party and Labour, gambling that their “anti-woke” rhetoric will play well with British voters.
Braverman argued “gender ideology” was being presented to workforces and the public “as if they are motherhood and apple pie” and claimed that under Labour, people would be “chased out of their jobs for saying that a man can’t be a woman”.
Following her remarks, Tory London Assembly member Andrew Boff, was ejected from the conference for heckling Braverman. He later told journalists that “this trash about gender ideology is making our Conservative party look transphobic and homophobic”.
Braverman wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that she thought Boff’s comments were “silly” but that he should be “forgiven and let back into conference”.
Chalk meanwhile noted the work the government was doing to increase prison capacity and said the government intended “to look at the Norwegian example and explore renting overseas capacity”. Norway has rented hundreds of prison spaces from the Netherlands since 2015.
Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said the government was “incapable of building the prison places this country needs to keep our people safe”.