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Sunak Accused of Toxic Rhetoric After Warning of ‘Overwhelming’ Migration to Europe

Rishi Sunak has been accused of adopting the “toxic” rhetoric of his former home secretary Suella Braverman, after he warned that migration would “overwhelm” European countries without firm action.

In remarks that will further inflame the Tory row over migration that has been raging for weeks, the prime minister said that “enemies” were “deliberately driving people to our shores to try to destabilise our society”.

Sunak made the comments at a festival in Rome organised by the far-right Brothers of Italy party, led by the Italian premier Giorgia Meloni. He said that both he and Meloni, with whom he has been forging a close relationship over hardline migration policies, were taking inspiration from Margaret Thatcher’s steadfast radicalism in their quest to do “whatever it takes” to “stop the boats”.

“Criminal gangs find the ugliest ways to exploit our humanity and don’t have a problem with putting people’s lives at risk by putting them on boats,” he said. “If we do not tackle this problem, the numbers will only grow. It will overwhelm our countries and our capacity to help those who actually need our help the most.”

The prime minister also said changes to postwar asylum rules could be required to resolve the issue. “Because if we don’t fix this problem now, the boats will keep coming and more lives will be lost at sea,” he said. The comments will alarm moderate Tories already concerned at the hard line Sunak has adopted over migrants crossing the Channel.

It comes after a week in which Sunak avoided a rebellion by his MPs over a bill designed to ensure he can send some asylum seekers to Rwanda. However, that battle will now spill over into next year, when the liberal wing and the right both believe they can pull the legislation in their direction. It also comes with MPs concerned over the looming electoral threat of Reform UK, which is planning to launch a campaign in early January to turn the next contest into an “immigration election”.

Sunak’s relationship with Meloni, Italy’s first female premier, has blossomed over their shared hardline approach towards immigration through policies that have pushed the limits of legality. They have also bonded over their admiration of Thatcher. Sunak revealed that during a meeting in Downing Street in April, the pair “looked through Margaret Thatcher’s papers”.

“Margaret Thatcher was serious about governing and never shied away from the big issues, and today the big issue is illegal immigration,” he said. “We must apply her radicalism [to fight against this].”

Sunak said political opponents were “burying their heads in the sand” hoping that the issue would go away on its own. “But it doesn’t work that way … Go to Lampedusa [a southern Italian island], where 50% of immigrants arrived this year. It is no longer sustainable, it is not correct and it is immoral.”

Meanwhile, Sunak praised Meloni, who has become one of Europe’s most influential politicians since taking power in October last year, for “reviving her country on the domestic and international scene”.

His use of the word “overwhelm” was immediately criticised as rhetoric similar to that used by Braverman, whom he sacked after they clashed over her migration plans. She once said the UK faced an “invasion” from people crossing the Channel in small boats.

“Rishi Sunak is so desperate he’s reaching for the Braverman playbook, using divisive rhetoric to try to cover up his own failures,” said the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael.

“Infighting within the Conservative party is now generating a bidding war to see who can make the most toxic contribution to the debate. It is also a bit rich to say we need international cooperation when Conservative ministers are trashing the treaties that we have signed up to to deal with this.

“Who would want to cooperate with a government that is happy to disregard our legal obligations? Instead of posturing, Rishi Sunak would do better to focus on tackling the asylum backlog that is leaving people in limbo and costing taxpayers billions.”

Sunak and Meloni, who described his presence at the festival as “a gift”, shared a hug as they stepped off the stage to rapturous applause. The Atreju festival began as a platform for debate among the youth wing of National Alliance, a neo-fascist party formed by the lingering supporters of Benito Mussolini after the second world war, before evolving to include politicians of all colours who mostly attend to nurture their own profile.

Elon Musk was among the other star guests this year, as was Edi Rama, the Albanian prime minister who is working with Italy on a migrant pact regarded as having been partly inspired by the UK government’s long-running attempts to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Other notable attendees included Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s rightwing Vox party.

The Castel Sant’Angelo gardens were transformed into a winter wonderland as part of the festival, with guests able to partake in ice-skating, sip mulled wine or admire a huge Christmas tree in the middle of a square named “Italian pride” in between debates about immigration, the declining birth rate and Italian cuisine.

“Although Atreju has evolved it is still mostly an event for Meloni and her posse,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Sapienza University in Rome. “She’s very careful in trying to be a stateswoman while at the same time recalling her roots and giving something back to her core supporters.” Among those core supporters is Francesca Spagnolo, who described Meloni as “young, smart and beautiful”.

“I really like Sunak too,” she said while posing for a selfie next to the ice-rink. “I see a good chemistry between them – they would go well together, especially now that Meloni is single.”

Source : The Guardian