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Diane Abbott says migrants 'have indeed f***ed off' in attack on Lee Anderson as 41 drown in tragedy off Italy
9 August 2023, 15:56 | Updated: 9 August 2023, 17:27
Independent MP Diane Abbott has hit out following Lee Anderson's controversial migrant comments.
The Conservative Party deputy chairman refused to apologise after saying those unhappy with the Bibby Stockholm should “f*** off back to France”.
Forty-one people have since died after a migrant boat capsized off Tunisia. Only four people survived the journey.
Referencing Mr Anderson's comments, Ms Abbott tweeted: "These migrants have indeed f***ed off. To the bottom of the sea."
The tweet was later deleted.
She had previously said Mr Anderson's comment was "a new low even for the Tories".
It comes after the first group of 15 migrants boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset on Monday but it emerged that 20 did not board after their transfers were "cancelled" by refugee charity lawyers.
The transfer of migrants onto the vessel has been mired in difficulty and delays in recent weeks amid safety concerns, local opposition and legal challenges.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk backed Mr Anderson on LBC on Tuesday, saying the MP had spoken “a lot of sense”.
Downing Street later reiterated the view, with a spokesperson for No10 saying: “The justice secretary was speaking on behalf of the government. That is the response.”
Callers clash over Lee Anderson 'f*** off' comments
The Government has said the barge, which was initially designed to fit about 200 people, has a 500-person capacity.
Mr Anderson said: "I'm not going to sit here and make excuses to anyone. This is out of control.
"We are in power at the moment, I'm the deputy chair of the Conservative Party. We are in Government and we have failed on this - there is no doubt about it."
Labour’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, previously hit out at Mr Anderson’s comments on Tuesday as he accused the government of stoking "division and hate”.
He said in a tweet: "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."
While the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, criticised Mr Chalk’s defence of the comments.
He said: "Alex Chalk's toe-curling interview was yet another sign of how weak this Government has become.
"Lifelong Conservative voters expect decent and respectful political debate, something completely lacking amongst Conservative MPs.
"People in Blue Wall Cheltenham would have been spitting out their cornflakes listening to Alex Chalk this morning,” he continued.
Ben Kentish reacts to Lee Anderson's comments
This summer, there have been numerous shipwrecks of smugglers' boats leaving from Tunisia bound for Italy.
According to the Interior Ministry, more than 93,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, more than twice the 45,000 who arrived during the same period in 2022.
The top nationalities of those arriving are from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Tunisia.
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose government includes the anti-migrant League party, has galvanised the European Union to join it in efforts to coax Tunisia to crack down on smuggling operations, but the boats continue to set off.