Tory MPs have been left “appalled” at a Home Office decision to paint over murals of cartoon figures at an asylum centre for lone children, i understands.
i revealed on Tuesday that immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, had ordered the removal of murals of figures such as Mickey Mouse and Baloo from The Jungle Book because they were “too welcoming” in April, although staff initially refused to act.
The Home Office confirmed yesterday that the work was carried out on Tuesday. It is understood outside contractors were used.
Despite Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, having backed Mr Jenrick over the controversial move, senior Whitehall officials and some moderate Tory MPs are understood to be concerned and aghast at the decision, which has been described as “abject cruelty” and “trivial nastiness”.
One official was surprised by Mr Jenrick’s approach, i understands, having assumed he would take a more moderate stance on migration, while another accused Mr Jenrick trying to compete with his boss, Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to be the toughest minister.
Another Whitehall source meanwhile described Mr Jenrick’s move as an “unforced error”.
i understands that the move has also left some Tory moderate MPs appalled.
A Tory former government adviser added: “The country is going to the dogs so we will instead focus on painting over a picture of Mickey Mouse to cheer up kids who have fled with only the clothes on their backs.
“What an absolute fucking disgrace.”
Tory Peer Lord Kirkhope, a former immigration minister who oversaw the 1996 UN Bosnian refugee resettlement programme, described the decision as “unfortunate”.
Calling into an LBC radio talkshow, he said: “I don’t think I would do it myself that way. It is contrary to what I believe is the historic friendliness and openness s of our society and our country.”
He added: “It’s a shame because we have a reputation, we have a background we can be proud of, even if it is a little while ago, and I just want it restored again.”
Mr Sunak’s spokesman suggested the decision was designed to “deter” asylum seekers from crossing the Channel as part of the Prime Minister’s promise to “stop the boats”.
The spokesman said: “We want to ensure that children who come into our care are safe, secure, they’re supported.
“And we need to make clear to broader arrivals that if you come here illegally, you will be removed.
“And ultimately, we want to deter people including families from making these dangerous profit crossings which are putting lives at risk.”
Asked whether painting over murals deters asylum seekers, he replied: “We do want to deter people from making these crossings.
“For those that do come into our care, it’s important that they are safe, secure, and have the requisite support – that is the focus, and obviously at the moment we are looking to create more temporary centres so that we can house people away from hotels.”
Labour has said Mr Jenrick, an ally of Mr Sunak, was “putting Britain to shame” and the Liberal Democrats described the order as “the worst kind of trivial nastiness” and a “waste of taxpayer money”.
A former child refugee told i the order was “an act of abject cruelty”.
Natasha Tsangarides, associate director of advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said: “The news that the immigration minister has in fact made staff paint over murals at a refugee reception centre shows just how contemptible this Government really is.
“But the millions of caring people up and down the UK will not stand for this. And compassion and reason are winning. Just last week the Government suffered major blows with the Court of Appeal ruling its immoral Rwanda scheme is unlawful and key defeats to their cruel refugee ban Bill in the House of Lords.
“Instead of continuing to punish people who’ve already been through so much, this Government should concentrate on rebuilding an asylum system that treats people with dignity and kindness.”
And an insider said staff at the asylum centre were “not happy” when the Home Office brought in contractors to paint over the murals on Tuesday, hours after i revealed Mr Jenrick’s order.