Priti Patel challenged on refugee stance and online hate at Board event

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Priti Patel challenged on refugee stance and online hate at Board event

Home Secretary was in conversation with ex-Labour MP, the Board's chief executive, Gillian Merron, as Priti Patel addressed key communal issues

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Priti Patel speaking to Gillian Merron, during the Board of Deputies event
Priti Patel speaking to Gillian Merron, during the Board of Deputies event

Home Secretary Priti Patel presented a trenchant defence of her most controversial recent stances when in conversation with the Board of Deputies chief executive, Gillian Merron, on Tuesday evening.

She brushed aside Merron’s attempts to ask about “inflammatory language” used in reference to asylum seekers and refugees, instead telling viewers of the Board’s livestream event that she received many “hostile” communications as an MP from people anxious about immigration policies.

And when asked about her recent attack on “activist lawyers”, Ms Patel said: “I appreciate these lawyers are doing their job, but at the same time they are actively campaigning to frustrate the deportation of many individuals, many of whom do have criminal backgrounds… they have caused great harm, they have hurt victims. We too often forget victims of these crimes, and I think on that basis alone, we want to do much more to deal with foreign nationals who want to harm our country”.

The conversation with the Home Secretary aroused significant controversy when it was announced, with many critics complaining about the Board giving Ms Patel a platform, and others saying that it was right for the Board to engage. The Board itself said she would be asked tough questions.

Gillian Merron made her approach to the Home Secretary in a number of areas: the forthcoming OnLine Harms Bill; Windrush; refugees and the rejection of the Dubs Amendment; the use of “inflammatory language”; and concerns regarding the Gypsy and Roma communities. Little time was available for questions from viewers of the interview, although dozens of mainly critical comments were sent in by text during the event.

Being asked about the OnLine Harms Bill enabled Ms Patel to denounce social media companies for “paying lip service” to pledges to reform. She said she wanted to appoint “an independent regulator, who will be tooled up to understand what has to be done to deal with the perpetrators of criminality” on social media platforms. The Home Secretary deplored “not just online harm, but online offending. We have seen targeted malicious hate, and there is an inadequate response” from the companies.

Ms Patel added: “I think there is a lot more to be done. I take a very robust stance and am quite unapologetic about it. These firms are hosting some of the most abhorrent antisemitic abuse”, and she believed that they must be dealt with.

If those were sentiments which pleased many, there was disappointment when Gillian Merron asked about the rejection of the Dubs Amendment. This was a proposal put forward by Lord Dubs, himself a former Kindertransporte refugee, that the government should accept child refugees into Britain, but the proposal failed to receive government backing.

Ms Merron, a former Labour MP, told the Home Secretary: “I imagine you know how uncomfortable many people are with regard to the language used about desperate people who make desperate journeys, across the Channel, for example”. While acknowledging that it was right to crack down on people-smuggling, she asked if the government would reconsider legislation to make the kind of provision that the Dubs Amendment had sought.

But Ms Patel responded by talking about a previous “resettlement” scheme which had so far seen 19,000 Syrians arriving and working in Britain. Deploring people trafficking and attendant criminality, she said she hoped to bring in new legislation which would allow people into Britain “with skills, who are sponsored by employers”. She did not address the issue of what would happen to unaccompanied child migrants, many of whom have tried to arrive in small boats across the Channel in recent months.

Instead the Home Secretary complained that there was not sufficient co-operation from the EU countries through which the would-be migrants had to travel in order to get to Britain. People could not continue to go “asylum shopping”, she said.

Ms Patel was introduced by Board president Marie van der Zyl and thanked by its vice-president, Amanda Bowman.


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