Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham criticised by Lancashire Forum of Faiths over support for Suella Braverman's 'invasion' asylum seekers comment
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Burnley’s Tory MP made the comment in his weekly Burnley Express column in which he defended Home Secretary Suella Braverman who had been roundly condemned for her use of the word invasion, which Mr Higginbotham said was “not an unfair description”.
Mr Higginbotham said: “‘An occasion when a large number of people come to a place in an unwanted way’ is the definition of the word invasion.”
However, Mr Higginbotham’s remarks led to an immediate backlash from the Lancashire Forum of Faiths, which said the language used could raise tension against particular vulnerable groups, and was also inaccurate in its description of asylum seekers as 'illegal'.
Speaking on behalf of the group, chairman Andrew Pratt and secretary Peter Lumsden, said: “In his Express column, Antony Higginbotham treads a dangerous path in using a selective definition of the word ‘invasion’; other definitions invoke the idea of an armed force, or a planned incursion.
“What is happening along the south coast with asylum seekers in boats is neither a planned nor an armed incursion. But the use of words like ‘invasion’ conjure up images which invoke fear, and so it is highly irresponsible for politicians to use them – Suella Braverman was warned of this when she was attorney-general.
“To assuage public fears, let’s remember that the number of asylum seekers in the UK is actually less this year than it was in previous years. The numbers are also very much less than those of other European countries (in 2021 there were 48,000 applications in the UK compared with 120,000 in France and 190,000 in Germany).
“What is different of course is that the route of entry, in small boats, is highly visible, and therefore more easily weaponised by those who are using the issue to stir up unease and division. Home office data show that around three-quarters of claimants are granted asylum; not only are these legitimate asylum seekers, but many have useful skills which could help to fill gaps in the labour market resulting from the decision to leave the EU.
“The second error that Antony Higginbotham makes is to refer to such arrivals as ‘illegal’. Making an asylum claim is a basic human right, and therefore such cannot, by definition, be ‘illegal’.
“The term ‘irregular’ might be a better one. And the only reason that such ‘irregular’ routes are being used is because the government has not made available ‘safe routes’, as it has previously promised. Such safe routes, with visas, would at a stroke remove the power of the people smugglers, and allow ‘regular’ travel for the purpose of claiming asylum.
“We hope that Mr Higginbotham will reconsider his language, especially as he is the MP for a town with a significant number of refugees and diversity of faiths, cultures and traditions, and where such language can undermine the great work leaders from all communities have done to bring people together across Burnley. We also hope that he will push for a preventive approach, introducing safe routes, visas available before entry to the UK, and a quicker processing of claims once these have been made.”