Ask refugees if Theresa May offers ‘a safe pair of hands’

May's campaign claims are not borne out by her Home Office record


A second Tory leadership ballot, scheduled for tonight, will confirm Theresa May as the frontrunner to be our next Prime Minister.

With her ‘safe hands’ campaign, May has won support from left and right, painting herself as neutral and competent, unlike her ideologically-driven opponents.

Because the transition has been so smooth (and because she wisely backed Remain) few have asked what role May — the longest-serving home secretary in decades — has played in the rise of anti-migrant, anti-refugee thinking that boiled over in the course of the referendum campaign.

But we should all remember:

  • This is the same ‘safe pair of hands’ that, in October 2014, defended pulling British support from all migrant search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, because the Home Office believed the possibility of rescue was a ‘pull factor’.
  • The strong woman candidate who failed to prevent abuse, rape, sexual exploitation and self-harm at Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
  • The sombre, serious politicians Lord Dubbs told to stop smiling after the government voted against resettling 3,000 child refugees.
  • The compassionate Conservative who said that ‘economic migrants’ crossing the Mediterranean should be sent back to North Africa.
  • Who wantsto review the international legal definitions of asylum and refugee status‘ so that fewer people qualify.
  • Who has refused to involve Britain in a Europe-wide refugee resettlement scheme, despite appalling conditions in camps in Italy and Greece.
  • Who thinks we shouldn’t show compassion for asylum-seekers enduring the squalid conditions in Calais because they supposedly represent “the wealthiest, the luckiest and the strongest” and are less deserving of British help.
  • Who, as Europe and the world faces the most severe refugee crisis in over half a century, had a clear answer to those who called for a common European response: ‘not in a thousand years’.

As home secretary, May has led the government’s efforts to ignore and deny the refugee crisis, to force the burden on to other countries in Europe and the Middle East, and to build Fortress Britain.

The Conservative Party may be safe in her hands, but the world’s most desperate people certainly aren’t.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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