Tory minister rows with 'virtue signalling' ice cream brand over English Channel migrants

James Cleverly accused Ben and Jerry's of 'virtue signalling' after it spoke out against Priti Patel over migrants crossing the English Channel. (Getty Images/Ben & Jerry's)
James Cleverly accused Ben & Jerry's of 'virtue signalling' after it spoke out against Priti Patel over migrants crossing the English Channel. (Getty Images/Ben & Jerry's)

A Conservative minister has accused an ice cream brand of “virtue signalling” after it waded into the debate over migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

The move came after Ben & Jerry’s called out home secretary Priti Patel for a “lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture”.

The high-end ice cream brand said in a series of tweets that “people wouldn’t make dangerous journeys if they had any other choice” and that “people cannot be illegal”.

It concluded: “Let’s remember we’re all human and have the same rights to life regardless of the country we happen to have been born in.”

It prompted James Cleverly, the Foreign Office and international development minister, to go on the attack: “Can I have a large scoop of statistically inaccurate virtue signalling with my grossly overpriced ice cream please.”

The Home Office also pushed back against Ben & Jerry’s, with a source quoted by the BBC as saying: “Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people.

"If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it."

More than 4,000 people have crossed the Channel from France to the UK this year, with at least 597 arriving between Thursday and Sunday alone.

A Border Force vessel assist a group of people thought to be migrants on board from their inflatable dinghy in the Channel, Monday Aug. 10, 2020. A Royal Air Force surveillance plane is flying over the English Channel as the British government tries to curb the number of people crossing from France in small boats. Britain’s Conservative government has talked tough amid a surge in the number of migrants crossing the Channel during recent warm summer weather. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)
A Border Force vessel approaches a group of people thought to be migrants on an inflatable dinghy on the English Channel on Monday. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

On Tuesday, immigration minister Chris Philp – who reports to Patel – promised a “new, comprehensive action plan” to stem the latest surge in crossings after talks with French officials.

Philp, speaking in Paris, said the “sheer numbers” crossing the Channel were “completely unacceptable” to both the French and UK governments.

He did not comment on the details of the new plan, only saying both countries had “renewed and reaffirmed their absolute commitment to make sure this border is properly policed and this route is completely ended”.

Meanwhile, some asylum seekers were set to launch a legal challenge to halt their deportation after arriving in the UK by crossing the Channel.

Up to 20 people were due to be put on a charter flight to France and Germany on Wednesday, according to campaigners. It is thought to be the first removal planned since the coronavirus lockdown.

The Duncan Lewis law firm said it is representing 15 people from Iran, Yemen, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan who have “strong claims for asylum and real reasons for wanting to stay in the UK” but have been told they are being deported.

Many have mental-health problems and some have been identified as victims of torture, sexual assault and trafficking, according to lawyers.

Read more: More children likely to risk Channel crossing to reunite with relatives under new rules, charity warns

Lily Parrott, one of the solicitors representing some of the migrants, said: “Whether the government likes it or not, under British and international law people are allowed to migrate for the purpose of seeking asylum – even if it means they have to use ‘irregular’ routes.

“The government’s suggestion that they cannot is just wrong, and an abuse of power.”

The ongoing debate comes as a YouGov survey carried out on Tuesday found 49% of Britons don’t sympathise with the thousands of migrants who have been making the dangerous journey across the Channel.

The poll found 27% of British adults have “no sympathy at all”, with 22% of people having “not much sympathy”.

On the other hand, the survey of 3,163 people also showed 44% do sympathise: 19% “a great deal” and 25% “a fair amount”.