Home Secretary Priti Patel enrages Paris with migrants comments

Priti Patel in racist French storm: Home Secretary enrages Paris by telling Tory MPs migrants want to cross Channel to escape prejudice

  • The Home Secratary claimed crossing migrants are escaping ‘racist’ France
  • Her comments game in a private meeting with Tory MPs, sparking the row
  • Row comes after Europe’s top judges condemned France for ‘degrading and inhumane’ treatment of asylum seekers by forcing them to sleep rough

Priti Patel sparked a diplomatic row last night by claiming migrants were crossing the Channel to escape ‘racist’ France, where they feared they would be tortured.

The Home Secretary’s inflammatory remarks, in a private meeting with Tory MPs, infuriated French politicians. One blasted: ‘Madam Patel is not a politician who does much thinking.’

But the row came as Europe’s top judges condemned France for ‘degrading and inhumane’ treatment of asylum seekers in forcing them to sleep rough for months in ‘constant fear of being attacked or robbed’. 

Tory MPs taking part in the Zoom conference call with Ms Patel also said she claimed to have been frustrated in her efforts to crack down on the Channel migrant crisis by No 10 – although both sides denied that last night. 

The private web chat with the Home Secretary came amid mounting anger on the Tory backbenches over how the Government was handling the migrant crisis. One MP claimed Ms Patel had told them: ‘France is a racist country. They would rather come to England.’

Last night, Government sources strongly denied that, insisting that the Home Secretary had only been passing on what migrants had been saying about France.

One stressed: ‘Priti made clear these were migrants’ views – not hers’, adding that the Home Secretary thought claims of possible torture if they returned to France were nonsense, pushed by activist lawyers.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel, pictured visiting Dover on Monday, has sparked a diplomatic row with France by claiming that migrants were crossing the Channel to escape ‘racist’ France, where they feared they would be tortured

But an MP from France’s opposition Republicans party raged: ‘Madam Patel has caused a lot of upset already with absurd and untrue claims about our forces not stopping immigrant boats. Wherever these latest claims about racism came from, Madam Patel should not be spreading them in such a callous manner.’ 

A politician from President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM party said: ‘Hateful claims are not a healthy part of politics, but this woman seems to spread them all the time.’

But the French MPs’ comments come after the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Paris government to pay a total of £32,000 compensation to three asylum seekers for failing to provide them with basics like food and shelter. 

Charity workers have said that French riot police regularly raid migrants’ camps, slash their tents with knives and confiscate their belongings and medicine. Refugees say police regularly assault them, and video footage of officers dragging migrants off buses has been posted online.

Away from the ‘racism’ row, one MP on the Zoom chat said Ms Patel expressed frustration that she was being hampered in tackling the migrant crisis. She is said to have told MPs: ‘I could see this coming. 

I have been on about this since I was appointed last summer’ – but claimed the issue had not been given priority. ‘I said around the Cabinet table we should be sitting through the summer recess to get legislation done,’ she is said to have told MPs . ‘And I was in a minority.’

Pictured: A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent, by Border Force officers following a number of small boat incidents in the Channel, August 15, 2020. New figures show that more than 1,000 migrants crossed to the UK in just ten days this month

The Home Secretary also reportedly said she had been thwarted in a bid to give more publicity to repatriation flights, which would send out the message the Government was getting tough on illegal migrants. 

She is said to have given the impression it was either Boris Johnson or his top aide, Dominic Cummings, who had stood in her way. However, Government sources insisted Ms Patel was expressing frustration with legal constraints.

One MP suggested Ms Patel was ‘covering herself’ as she was getting a ‘hard time’ from colleagues over the crisis.

The backbencher complained: ‘It looks incompetent and is incompetent that we can’t stop rubber dinghies coming across the Channel when people are being told they can’t go on holiday to Spain.’ 

Last week Ms Patel is understood to have told France they would not get the extra £30 million they sought to tackle the migrant problem unless they performed better.

The MP said there was also concern about asylum seekers being sent to hotels around the country. Former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has said he will today release a video on Twitter which will ‘embarrass Priti Patel’ by showing asylum seekers being housed in a hotel in her Essex constituency.

Last night, the Home Office said: ‘The Home Secretary is clearly frustrated by the increasing number of small boats crossing the Channel’ and said that, by the end of the Brexit transition period, the right legislation would be in place.

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