After grabbing the morning headlines with talk of housing asylum seekers on ships and barges, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick made a statement to the Commons and I used the opportunity to challenge him on his language, saying :
“In response to an earlier question, the Minister talked about people “breaking into our country”. The Home Secretary has talked about an “invasion”. Those words, like this statement, are designed for the headlines, but can I ask him genuinely whether he recognises that using that kind of language to describe people, many of whom are seeking refuge from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, is inflammatory, divisive and adds to the sort of tensions that other Members have talked about? Will he reflect on his use of language and agree that the priority is to tackle the people smugglers, not to criminalise and demonise their victims?
I was disappointed that he doubled down on the language in his reply:
“I believe that all of us have a responsibility to choose our words with care, and to accept the occasions where we choose the wrong language. This is an area of public policy where it would be better to de-escalate the current language and tensions. I do not think it is wrong to describe individuals as illegal immigrants or to say that individuals are breaking into our country, because we have borders and they have to be enforced. If the hon. Gentleman or I crossed a national border into another country, we would expect to be met by law enforcement and a robust response.”
We need an honest debate on the challenges facing all developed counties as people seek refuge and the opportunity to build better lives, and we need to fix the backlog of asylum applications which has left people in limbo, but consciously talking up the issues in this way without any real solutions is dangerous and irresponsible.