POLITICS

BBC Question Time: 'Bunch Of Migrants' Line Repeated By Cabinet Minister Patrick McLoughlin; Adds 'That's What Corbyn Surrounded Himself With'

29/01/2016 00:48 GMT | Updated 29/01/2016 01:00 GMT

Cabinet minister Patrick McLoughlin has repeated David Cameron's infamous "bunch of migrants" line - and gone even further by claiming "that's what Jeremy Corbyn surrounded himself with".

The Tory Transport Secretary waded into the row on BBC1's Question Time to defend the Prime Minister, just a day after he sparked a widespread backlash for the remarks about the Labour leader's trip to refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais.

McLoughlin was unrepentant, insisting that the UK Government was doing more than most to help Syrians in the countries bordering their home nation.

A member of the Question Time audience raised the issue, demanding an apology for the comments.

“I thought the Prime Minister’s comments at Prime Minister’s Question Time were absolutely shameful in terms of how he referred to how he referred to migrants," she said, to applause.

"And I think he just continues to incite hatred and prejudice. And I think he should apologise.”

When asked by David Dimbleby if the PM should say sorry for the ‘bunch of migrants’ line, McLoughlin refused to back down.

“He said a bunch of migrants...that's a description of what Jeremy Corbyn surrounded himself with, when he went marching over to Calais…”

Labour MP Jess Phillips was visibly shocked at the minister's remark, hitting back "they are people who've faced much more than you’ll ever face in your life.”

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Labour MP Jess Phillips

Fellow panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown added: “You don’t believe that. You really don't believe that?”

The SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson also interjected: "Appalling, appalling.”

The reaction on Twitter to McLoughlin's remarks was swift, with many claiming he had further dehumanised the refugees by referring to them as 'what'.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling was one of many to retweet Times journalist Hugo Rifkind's own take on the Question Time debate.

But McLoughlin went on to say that the right way to approach the migrant crisis was to help Syrians in the region, rather than create a 'pull factor' of admitting more who had made the perilous journey to Europe.

"We are a moral nation and we need to fulfil our moral responsibilities," he said, despite being heckled. The minister added that he was "proud to be in a party" that gave 0.7% of its national income to overseas aid.

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Jeremy Corbyn at a refugee camp in Dunkirk

“We are the second biggest bilateral donor in humanitarian crisis to Syria. Over £1.1bn. We’ve sent the Royal Navy to try and turn some of these boats backs to that people don’t drown,” he said.

He added that the Government would be hosting a special conference in London next week to look at extra help for Syria from the UK, the Germans and other nations.

In the House of Commons earlier on Thursday, Shadow Commons Leader Chris Bryant won cheers from Labour MPs as he listed the ethnic backgrounds of many MPs and ministers, describing them as 'a bunch of migrants'.