Claims government officials working on small boats policy referred to ‘bloody migrants’

Cabinet Office officials working on the government’s small boats plan reportedly referred to “bloody migrants” and told colleagues they were expected to leave their “humanity at the door” in a sign of civil service tensions over the controversial policy,

Rowaa Ahmar, a former senior civil servant who has withdrawn a discrimination case against the Cabinet Office, has described “inhumane conversations” in the illegal migration taskforce.

She was head of policy at the department before resigning in 2022 and later accused individuals at the heart of Boris Johnson’s government of bullying, discrimination and gaslighting.

The former civil servant, who is of Egyptian and French dual heritage, also made allegations of “systemic racism” against the Cabinet Office.

“I was privy to some inhumane conversations using the words ‘let’s boomerang them’, ‘bloody migrants’, ‘let’s take them in Cat C and treat them as prisoners,’” she told The Guardian. “I can’t reveal the legal advice, but I was pushing for the legal advice to be respected.”

Ms Ahmar, who previously worked at the Treasury, had lodged two claims with an employment tribunal, claiming she was subject to “direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her sex and race” as well as “victimisation”.

Tribunal documents made public following a successful application by news organisations show she accused the head of the civil service, Simon Case, of showing a “lack of support” and “cold-shouldering” her allegations of racism and harassment after she resigned.

She said that after beginning her role as head of policy for the illegal migration task force on 4 January 2022, she found civil service directors viewed the “ultra-hostile environment” towards migrants as “practical, necessary and gratifying”.

Rowaa Ahmar, a former senior civil servant, has withdrawn a discrimination case against the Cabinet Office (Getty)
Rowaa Ahmar, a former senior civil servant, has withdrawn a discrimination case against the Cabinet Office (Getty)

She said she tried to move away from a system of “prejudice and blame” and to focus on tackling criminal gangs and claimed she was not wanted at “ultra-anti-foreigner meetings”.

Ms Ahmar argued: “My management team were on board for the racist ultra-hostility which a boomerang [no returns] policy would involve, and they saw me as [an] unwelcome visitor to their taskforce.”

She said the team caused “embarrassment” to the government and “wasted” taxpayers’ money on the multimillion-pound five-year trial with Rwanda to send asylum seekers there, court documents reveal.

She also felt her English communication skills were being criticised.

Ms Ahmar, who was a Treasury official before being seconded to the Cabinet Office after June 2021, helped with Britain’s preparations for the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November of that year.

However, she alleged in court documents that she was ordered to leave the summit on 6 November 2021 after being “harassed, discriminated against, victimised”, claiming other white staff were not subject to the same treatment.

She highlighted criticism by bosses of her tone when speaking as “victimisation”.

Cabinet secretary Mr Case and two of the other named Cabinet Office officials – permanent secretary Alex Chisholm and chief operating officer Sarah Harrison – were all accused of being “untrustworthy” over how they dealt with her complaints.

Simon Case is the UK’s most senior civil servant (PA Archive)
Simon Case is the UK’s most senior civil servant (PA Archive)

The tribunal documents show Mr Case and the two other officials argued they played only “minor roles”.

It is believed that lawyers were set to state that these officials, who are some of the most senior civil servants in the country, had nothing to do with the main underlying treatment involved in Ms Ahmar’s complaint.

It is believed their challenge stated the thrust of most of her claims against them is that, upon her contacting them after the event, she alleges they did not do what she wanted in response.

Mr Case, who works closely with prime minister Rishi Sunak, stepped back from his duties in October because of a medical matter, before returning to work in January.

Before being appointed cabinet secretary by the then prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020, Mr Case served as private secretary to the then Prince of Wales.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Office has always firmly denied all of the claims in this case. We were prepared to robustly defend them in court.

“The entire case has now been withdrawn by the claimant, and no payment has been made, including for her legal costs.

“As we set out in our response to the court – the claims include a great deal of bare assertion, often of an extremely serious nature, with no supporting evidence. Some of their own evidence is inconsistent and there is often obviously contradictory evidence.

“The hard-working civil servants in the illegal migration taskforce were delivering one of the government’s top priorities. They have supported the arrest of hundreds of people smugglers and prevention of tens of thousands of dangerous small boat crossings.”