Suella Braverman was unable to say how an African orphan could seek asylum in the UK during an awkward exchange with a fellow Tory MP.
The home secretary had to defer to her colleagues when she could not answer the question put to her by MP Tim Loughton.
It was one a number of uncomfortable exchanges for the cabinet minister who was appearing at the home affairs committee on Wednesday.
Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said to Braverman: “Just a bit of role play: I’m a 16-year-old orphan from an East African country escaping a war zone and religious persecution.
“I have a sibling legally in the United Kingdom at the moment. What is the safe and legal route for me to come to United Kingdom?”
Braverman replied: “Well, we have...you’re fleeing which country sorry?”
Loughton told her: “Any African country. I don’t want to name one because then their prime minister might have a go at me for demonising their population.
“So let’s just theoretically talk about an African country which is going through a period of turbulence, which is persecuting its citizens, including an innocent 16 year old like me.”
His comments were a thinly veiled swipe at Braverman who has recently sparked the fury of both the Albanian and Belize governments.
She was accused of “discriminating” against Albanians by the country’s prime minister and was slapped down by Belize’s foreign affairs minister over “inhumane” reports she was planning a migrant deportation deal with them.
Braverman told the committee: “Well, we have an asylum system and people can put in applications for asylum.”
Loughton pressed her: “How would I do that?”
She replied: “Well, you can do it through the safe and legal routes that we have. We have offered 390,000 places to people seeking safety from various countries around the world...”
Loughton interrupted, saying his fictional character was not eligible of any current government asylum schemes: “I’m not Syrian, I’m not Afghan, I’m not Ukrainian, I’m not any of those specific schemes. The Dubs scheme is historic. What scheme is open to me?”
Braverman told him: “Well, if you are able to get to the UK, you’re able to put in an application for asylum.”
Loughton had cornered the home secretary, telling her: “I would only enter the UK illegally then wouldn’t I?”
Braverman said: “Well, if you put in your application for asylum upon arrival that would be the process that you enter.”
Loughton added: “How could I arrive in the UK if I didn’t have permission to get onto an aircraft legally to arrive in the UK?”
Braverman said: “Let me just invite our colleagues if there’s anything you want to add?”
Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the home office, told him: “Depending on which country you’re from, you could engage with UNHCR.
“And that would be a way of getting leave to enter the UK in order to put in that asylum claim.
“But I accept that there are some countries where it would not be possible.”
Loughton commented: “I think the point is that there’s a shortage of safe and legal routes other than for specific groups of people that we have generously offered safe haven to.”
The home secretary has come under fire in recent weeks for her handling of the migrant crisis as well as her own behaviour.
She was accused of allowing the migrant holding unit Manston to become dangerously overcrowded and ignoring legal advice on using hotels to house migrants - allegations that she denies.
Braverman was accused of failing to sign off on measures which could have eased pressure at Manston.
It came amid reports that more than 4,000 migrants were housed there, despite it being meant to hold just 1,600 when it was built
She had shared a document with a Tory MP on the government’s immigration policy. Braverman also accidentally sent a copy of the email to a parliamentary staff member.
It was then revealed she had sent government documents to her personal email address six times during her first stint as home secretary.