'It reflects the real frustrations people have': Roads Minister insists Lee Anderson's migrant comments were 'fair'

8 August 2023, 18:32 | Updated: 8 August 2023, 19:40

The Roads Minister defended Lee Anderson's comments.
The Roads Minister defended Lee Anderson's comments. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Jenny Medlicott

Roads Minister Richard Holden has said he "understands" the language used by Lee Anderson to describe migrants who have been "complaining" about the Bibby Stockholm barge.

Mr Holden defended the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party after he made controversial comments about migrants on Tuesday.

Mr Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, said those unhappy with the Bibby Stockholm, a housing barge for migrants, should “f*** off back to France” or “better not come at all in the first place”.

Speaking to LBC’s Ben Kentish, Mr Holden defended his fellow MP's comments and warned against ‘policing’ people’s language on ‘serious’ matters.

Quizzed on the language used by the MP for Ashfield, Mr Holden said: “It’s the sort of language I’d hear from my constituents on the doorstop, in fact sometimes, it’s stronger language than that. I think, it’s not language that I would specifically use.”

It comes after the first group of 15 migrants boarded the controversial barge on Monday, which is moored in Dorset.

However it emerged that some 20 migrants who were set to board the barge had their transfers "cancelled" after lawyers acting on behalf of a refugee charity blocked the move.

Read more: 'I like it': First migrant to leave Bibby Stockholm gives verdict on what life is like on floating barge

Read more: Migrants who refuse to board Bibby Stockholm barge 'face losing government support'

Read more: 'We will punish and disgrace rogue lawyers who help small boat migrants lie to stay in UK', justice secretary vows

The first group of migrants boarded the barge on Monday.
The first group of migrants boarded the barge on Monday. Picture: Alamy

When pressed on whether the explicit language used by Mr Anderson was acceptable for a senior Tory MP, Mr Holden replied: “Lee will express himself in his own inimitable style, and I think we need to be careful about this, if we start to try and police people’s language when this is a really serious issue.

He continued: “If people are coming to this UK illegally then they shouldn’t be here.”

“There are plenty of safe countries that people will have travelled through to get here, and people will quite rightly understand the language that Lee Anderson and others have used in this space, because it reflects the real frustration that people have.”

It comes after Justice Secretary Alex Chalk also defended Mr Anderson’s comments on Tuesday, as he said the MP’s comments contain “a lot of sense”.

Mr Chalk told LBC: "Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms, that's his style, but his indignation is well placed."

The Justice Secretary said France is a safe country and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.

"People should claim asylum in the first country," he added. "It's not like there should be an open shopping list of where you want to go.

"He expresses himself in his characteristically robust terms but there is a lot of sense, in my respectful view, in what Lee says."

Shelagh Fogarty: Rishi Sunak should sack Lee Anderson

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.

The Government has said the barge, which was initially designed to fit about 200 people, has a 500-person capacity.

Labour’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, 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.

Former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott also said: “A new low even for the Tories.”

Despite the backlash faced by Mr Anderson, he doubled down on his remarks, as he replied to Ms Abbott’s tweet: "Wrong again... I told illegal migrants to go back to France, not genuine asylum seekers.”

It comes after it emerged on Tuesday that the Home Office told migrants who refuse to board the Bibby Stockholm face losing government support.