The civil service’s biggest union has warned that home secretary Suella Braverman is placing Border Force staff at increased risk of harm with her comments on the government’s response to the migrant boats crisis.
PCS said it had written to Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft raising “significant concerns” about the legitimacy of the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which was introduced to parliament this week, and criticising Braverman’s “politicisation” of officials.
Earlier this week Conservative Party officials put out a statement in Braverman’s name that criticised civil servants for opposing moves to deter would-be asylum seekers from making perilous Channel crossings to get to the UK from mainland Europe.
Those moves include threatening to send some categories of asylum seeker to Rwanda for “processing”. The new bill contains measures that would allow for the removal of asylum seekers who arrive in the UK after passing through a “safe” country to get here.
In their letter to Rycroft, PCS Home Office group president James Cox and vice president Peter Wright complained that, despite her criticism of civil servants, Braverman had also repeatedly claimed that Border Force staff were in support of the new bill.
Cox and Wright said they did not believe support for the bill was the “majority view” among Border Force staff. And they argued that Braverman’s use of “highly emotive language about asylum seekers", including describing crossings as an “invasion”, could have practical implications for officials working at processing centres.
“These are consequences which potentially put our members at risk,” they said.
“We believe our members must not be politicised. Suella Braverman has simultaneously blamed civil servants for blocking her policies and then also claimed their full support for them. This politicises our members and places them at risk.”
Cox and Wright said it was “unacceptable” for a minister to “co-opt the views and support of civil servants” in a political issue.
“Civil servants are not a political tool to use to progress political measures and expressing their personal support is in breach of the civil service code relating to political impartiality,” they said.
“We believe that it is now incumbent that an apology for these statements be issued along with a clarification that the bill does not have the support of every Border Force officer.”
Braverman has said she did not write the email criticising civil servants, nor see it, and added that it was an error that it was sent out in her name.
Cox and Wright also told Home Office perm sec Rycroft he had a duty of care to “maximise the safety and minimise the risk to his staff”.
They said the department’s current course was “doing the opposite of this”.
Civil Service World sought a Home Office response to the PCS letter.
A Home Office spokesperson said the Illegal Migration Bill would change the law so that people who come to the UK illegally can be detained and then swiftly returned to a safe third country or their home country. However their statement did not address the concerns raised by PCS.
“The home secretary has repeatedly thanked Home Office teams for all their work on the bill,” the spokesperson said.
“She has also made clear in the strongest possible terms that violence towards asylum seekers is unacceptable.”