adiq Khan on Tuesday accused the Government of stoking “division and hate” after a foul-mouthed attack by a leading Conservative MP on asylum seekers.
The London Mayor spoke out after Justice Secretary Alex Chalk defended the remark by Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson, who said that any asylum seekers unhappy at being relocated to a barge off Dorset can “f*** off back to France”.
Mr Chalk said his Conservative colleague had used “salty” language in expressing the “righteous indignation” of the British public, insisting that asylum seekers should make their case in France rather than crossing the Channel.
“We’re a country that believes in fairness and playing by the rules and those who don’t play by the rules … rightly cause indignation, and I think Lee was expressing that indignation in his own way,” the Cabinet minister said on Times Radio.
But Mr Khan stressed: “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.”
Labour MP Rupa Huq accused the Tories of “desperate gutter politics”, adding it “looks like they are trying to regain their reputation as the nasty party”.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said Mr Chalk’s defence of Mr Anderson was “toe-curling” – and highlighted that his party is targeting the minister’s Cheltenham seat as a key marginal in the next General Election.
“Lifelong Conservative voters expect decent and respectful political debate, something completely lacking amongst Conservative MPs,” Mr Carmichael said.
“People in Blue Wall Cheltenham would have been spitting out their cornflakes listening to Alex Chalk this morning.”
Independent MP Diane Abbott called Mr Anderson’s comments “a new low even for the Tories”.
TV presenter Carol Vorderman condemned Mr Chalk for defending his colleague. “What does this country now look like to the outside world with this rabble of politicians?” she tweeted.
A total of 15 people seeking asylum were moved to the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland on Monday.
The asylum seekers, who are all believed to be adult men aged between 18 and 65, arrived on buses amid a heavy police presence. But up to 20 others won legal challenges against their relocation.
“If they don’t like barges then they should f*** off back to France,” Mr Anderson told the Express website.
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 floating accommodation block will ultimately house up to 500 men moved from hotels or elsewhere in Britain.
The barge, owned by a Swedish firm, was previously used to house oil field workers and migrants in other countries.
The UK Government has moved people there in a bid to cut the bill for sheltering migrants in hotels, which it puts at £6 million a day.
Mr Chalk 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 added.
“(Mr Anderson) expresses himself in his characteristically robust terms but there is a lot of sense, in my respectful view, in what Lee says.”