Tory councillors hit out at ‘racist’ anti-immigrant vans

Conservative councillors have joined the chorus of outrage at anti-immigrant vans, which have been driven around London boroughs telling illegal immigrants to "go home".

The vans show a [pair of handcuffs and read: "In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest".

They have been condemned by disparate political figures, from Vince Cable to Nigel Farage.

"It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters, without very careful discussion with the affected communities," said Keith Prince, Conservative leader of Redbridge council.

"If we had been consulted, we would have warned strongly that, whatever effect this campaign might be intended to have on people who are in the country unlawfully, that message is far outweighed by the negative message to the great majority of people, from all backgrounds, who live and work together in Redbridge, peacefully, productively and lawfully

"We ask the Home Office to withdraw the campaign."

The one-week pilot has now come to an end but Downing Street sources said they thought the vans had a "positive" reaction, suggesting the Home Office still plans to push ahead with the project.

Nick Clegg is understood to have called immigration minister Mark Harper to protest at the vans.

Business secretary Cable told the Andrew Marr programme: "It was stupid and offensive. I think it is very unlikely it will continue."

"It is designed, apparently, to sort of create a sense of fear in the British population that we have a vast problem with illegal immigration.

"We have a problem but it's not a vast one. It's got to be dealt with in a measured way dealing with the underlying causes."
Labour, which usually attacks from the right when it comes to immigration, also criticised the vans, with shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant branding them "ill-judged".

"This is cynical and has all the hallmarks of a stunt when the government has failed to create a strong border system that actually works," he said.

"Ill-judged stunts are not welcomed by anyone, certainly not as a replacement for an effective system."

Even Nigel Farage, who has a hardline position on immigration, would not support the vans.

"I think it's very Big Brother, very statish, very sort of East Germany circa the 1980s, it’s just a horrid way of doing it," he told LBC radio.

"The danger is that the kind of message that is being sent from these billboards will be taken not just by illegal immigrants but also by many people of settled ethnic minorities as being some sort of sign of open warfare."

The vans, which were trailed in the boroughs of Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge, gave illegal immigrants a number to call to discuss returning "home" and displayed a number showing the number of illegal immigrants recently arrested in the local area.