Michael Gove has defended his Cabinet colleague Suella Braverman over her interaction with a Holocaust survivor in which she refused to apologise for describing migrants crossing the Channel as an “invasion”.
When asked at a Holocaust Memorial Day event about the encounter, the Levelling Up Secretary said he had not seen the full exchange, which was caught on video, but was a “big admirer” of Ms Braverman’s policies.
Survivor Joan Salter, 83, was seen in a four-minute clip confronting Ms Braverman and likening her language on migrants attempting to cross the English Channel to that used by the Nazis.
On Wednesday evening, Mr Gove spoke at an event two days before Holocaust Memorial Day, in the Concert Hall of St John’s Smith Square, central London.
When asked about Ms Braverman’s interaction with Ms Salter and whether he supported her rhetoric, Mr Gove told the PA news agency: “Well, Suella is a friend and colleague of mine.
“She was very clear in the House of Commons about why she used the language that she did. I don’t know about the incident so I’ll look at it.
“But I’m a big admirer of everything that Suella has done and is doing in order to make sure that the terrible trade in human misery that people smugglers are responsible for can end.”
When asked again whether he supported her choice of words, Mr Gove said: “Suella explained very clearly and helpfully that she was talking about the scale of the problem that we face.
“Everyone recognises that it’s a very significant challenge, and one that lots of other countries face.”
Mr Gove stayed to speak with many survivors at the Holocaust memorial event, and used his speech to thank them for the “bravery” they had displayed by sharing painful personal stories.
Speaking at the lectern, he said: “At a time when we face disinformation, deceit, and denial, we need to hear the truth, and the truth and Martin and other survivors is the most powerful currency we have in order to fight prejudice.”
Mr Gove also said the Holocaust Memorial Learning Centre, which is being built beside Parliament, will serve as “a permanent reminder of the unique evil of the Holocaust” and “a permanent rallying point for people to re-commit themselves to fighting hatred and preventing genocide.”
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, told PA that “everybody can take responsibility for their language”.
Speaking about Ms Salter’s comments to the Home Secretary, she said: “She highlighted a really interesting point about language, and everybody can take responsibility for their language, and make sure that they are using language that is respectful of others.
“I would encourage anybody interested in Holocaust Memorial Day to reflect on how they use language and to think what an opportunity we have with our words and our own interactions with others that we can be humanising people and showing respect and dignity even while we may disagree with people.”
Victims of the Holocaust are remembered each year on January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.