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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Blunkett stands by 'swamping' remark
Would-be migrants at Sangatte camp in France bidding to enter UK
Blunkett wants to crack down on illegal immigrants
Downing Street has given its full support to David Blunkett despite his refusal to apologise for saying asylum seekers were "swamping" some British schools.

The Campaign for Racial Equality (CRE) has criticised the home secretary's remarks, made in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, saying they were "hugely emotive".

I'm afraid I don't apologise

David Blunkett

But Mr Blunkett is unrepentant.

He insists children of asylum seekers should be taught in accommodation centres rather than being allowed to overwhelm local schools.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said he would not have used the word "swamping" but agreed with Mr Blunkett that the asylum system was in chaos.

French elections

Asylum was discussed at Thursday's cabinet meeting, where Tony Blair said the success of the far-right in the French elections would move the issue up the agenda.

Mr Blair's spokesman said: "People in this country are not against people coming in but they want to se a system that is fair."

Downing Street did not use the word "swamped" but said Mr Blunkett had the prime minister's "100% support".

Home Office Minister Angela Eagle later said the new schools policy would only be a trial and would be abandoned if it did not work.

Thatcher precedent

But CRE chairman Gurbux Singh said Mr Blunkett's use of the word "swamping" was "regrettable" and would deflect from real debate over immigration issues.

The criticism has focused on the fact the remark echoes Margaret Thatcher's controversial comment about Britain being "swamped by an alien culture".

Lord Hattersley, former Labour deputy leader
Lord Hattersley says Blunkett should say sorry
But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday, Mr Blunkett insisted he had used the term deliberately in its proper context.

"I could have used "overwhelmed" or "overburdened" because the dictionary definition is exactly the same," he said.

Mr Blunkett stressed he was not talking about Britain being swamped by immigrants.

He said he was referring to the extra work that could be created by asylum seekers for particular schools or doctors.

"The idea that a word is unusable even though the dictionary definition is perfectly straightforward because an ex-prime minister used it... in a different context in an emotive way is ridiculous," he added.

'Blunt Yorkshireman'

But Left wing Labour MP Diane Abbott said the minister's remark was unfortunate.

"The home secretary needs to be careful in his use of language in this whole area," she said.

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen's success in France shocked many politicians
"There is a danger that in being the blunt Yorkshireman, in trying to conciliate white people's fears and all the rest of it, he strays into a use of language that very many people actually find offensive."

Parents from a school in Mr Blunkett's Sheffield constituency told Today they backed Mr Blunkett and his plans to educate asylum seeker children separately.

That was an idea which provoked concern from MPs, some of them Labour backbenchers, in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Asylum Bill passed

They feared separate schooling could lead to segregation and would rather refugee children had the chance of a mainstream education.

But the government insists that teaching inside the centres will be in line with the education standards demanded by schools watchdog Ofsted.

Despite the worries, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill was given an unopposed second reading.

The bill sets out a number of other measures including:

  • A pilot phase of asylum seeker accommodation centres

  • Streamlining the appeal process of those denied the right to remain in the UK

  • Raising the maximum jail term for people convicted of harbouring illegal immigrants from six months to 14 years

    The BBC's Nick Robinson
    "Mr Blunkett got the Prime Minister's backing on Thursday"
    Home Secretary David Bunkett
    speaking on Radio 4's Today on Wednesday 24th April
    David Blunkett speaking on Thursday 25th April
    "Yes I did mean to say it"
    Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin
    "The system for asylum is currently in chaos"

    Key stories



    See also:

    24 Apr 02 | Politics
    24 Apr 02 | Politics
    07 Feb 02 | Politics
    24 Apr 02 | Politics
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