The SNP is “trying to thwart the safety and security of the British public” over its stance on immigration, UK home secretary Priti Patel said on Sunday.
She also said the party would “much rather have an immigration policy of open borders”.
Her comments come after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she fundamentally disagrees with the immigration policy of the Home Office after two men were detained – and then released – by Border Force officials in Glasgow earlier this month.
Speaking to Sky News, Patel said: “When it comes to the nationalists in Scotland they would much rather have an immigration policy of open borders, no checks when it comes to criminals coming to the UK and no border controls”.
“The point about our immigration policy – immigration is a reserved matter for the government here (at Westminster) and quite frankly it is pretty clear that when it comes to the nationalists in Scotland they would much rather have an immigration policy of open borders, no checks when it comes to criminals coming to the UK and no border controls, and I think actually her (Sturgeon’s) comments also reflect upon the nationalist position when it comes to removing people that have no legal basis to be in the UK.”
Two Indian nationals were detained by immigration officials for eight hours on May 13, sparking a large protest on Kenmure Street in Pollokshields, where many Muslim members of the community were celebrating Eid.
Police Scotland said it made an operational decision to release the men back into the community after a large crowd blockaded the enforcement van and chanted, “these are our neighbours, let them go”.
But Patel said: “This is nothing to do with Eid at all. Immigration enforcement were absolutely doing their job in terms of removing people with no legal basis to be in the UK.
“I think it is absolutely sorry, a sorry state of affairs, that we see the nationalists in Scotland basically trying to thwart the safety and security of the British public but also trying to prevent the British government from removing those with no legal basis to be in the United Kingdom.”
Two men, aged 31 and 32, and a 23-year-old woman were arrested during the police operation on Kenmure Street.
One of the men detained, Lakhvir Singh, told STV News he felt “very lucky” as a result of the support he received during the protests on Glasgow’s south side.
The First Minister, who is the MSP for Glasgow Southside, tweeted at the time that the events were “entirely down to @ukhomeoffice actions”, adding that Police Scotland officers had been placed “in an invidious position”.
She wrote: “They do not assist in the removal of asylum seekers but do have a duty to protect public safety. They act independently of ministers but I support this decision.”
She added: “I disagree fundamentally with @ukhomeoffice immigration policy but even putting that aside, this action was unacceptable.
“To act in this way, in the heart of a Muslim community as they celebrated Eid, and in an area experiencing a Covid outbreak was a health & safety risk.”
During an urgent question session in the Scottish Parliament earlier this month, then justice secretary Humza Yousaf was asked about the Scottish Government’s response and its engagement with the Home Office.
Yousaf said he and the First Minister had spent a significant amount of time speaking to the Home Office and Police Scotland to find a safe solution to the protests on Kenmure Street.
He said: “The actions of the Home Office yesterday (May 13) were at best, utterly incompetent, at worst intended to provoke.
“Either way they were completely unacceptable.”
Yousaf also said it had been reckless to take the action during an upsurge of Covid cases in Glasgow, as well as during the festival of Eid.
Earlier this year, Patel announced what she described as the “most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades” last month.
She said the UK would introduce a “comprehensive, fair but firm” plan to deal with those entering the UK “illegally”.
Under the proposals, people coming into the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally, giving rise to concerns about asylum seekers being judged on how they arrived in the UK and not on merit.
The UK Government insists that the changes it is making are all consistent with international law, and meet its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.
But campaigners and faith leaders, who include the Scottish Refugee Council as well as the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Muslim Forum, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and housing campaigners at Shelter Scotland, told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the plan would “render many people seeking refugee protection, on arrival in the UK, ineligible for asylum”.
The cross-party signatories, who included Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, and the leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, said in a joint letter: “We are proud to say that, for more a decade, regardless of who has been in power in Scotland, there has been cross-party opposition to dawn raids.”