Charities censure ‘politically motivated activists’ remarks by home secretary

24 Aug 2023 News

Home secretary Suella Braverman, offical government photo

Charity sector organisations have criticised comments made by the home secretary in response to a Charity Commission investigation into Care4Calais.

The Charity Commission’s report, published today, found serious misconduct and/or mismanagement by the refugee support charity’s former trustees.

However, it found that the trustees’ decision to challenge the government’s migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda served to further the charity’s objects and was in line with the Commission’s guidance on political campaigning.

As reported by the Telegraph, Suella Braverman said in response to the report: “The Charity Commission finding serious misconduct at Care4Calais is concerning but not particularly surprising. As with certain immigration lawyers, it’s clear that some charities and civil society groups are actively undermining efforts to curb illegal migration.

“They form part of an establishment committed to ever increasing migration, with no regard for the will of the British people. These groups are comprised of politically motivated activists masquerading as humanitarians. It is a con. But the British public won’t be fooled.”

Charity sector membership bodies ACEVO, NCVO and Bond criticised Braverman’s remarks, while Care4Calais said her comments did not reflect the inquiry’s findings.

ACEVO: ‘Irrelevant and politically-motivated point about charitable purpose’

Jane Ide, chief executive of ACEVO, said: “It would appear that the home secretary has chosen to use a Charity Commission inquiry into the appropriate governance of a charity to make an irrelevant and politically motivated point about charitable purpose.

“It is clearly laid out within regulation that campaigning and political activity can be ‘legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake’ and it is a legal requirement that political campaigning or political activity must be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes.  

“Charities working within the refugee and migrant sector have a legitimate right to campaign and to seek to influence government policy in these areas.  

“For any politician to suggest that by carrying out that work in line with their charitable objects as agreed by the Charity Commission they are acting against the interests of the British public and in some way ‘masquerading as humanitarians’ is not only deeply insulting to committed professionals and volunteers in our sector but also clearly demonstrates that some in our political system would seek to encroach on and limit our sector’s legally defined rights.”

Bond: Comments ‘foster a hostile environment towards UK civil society’

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of NGO umbrella body Bond, said: “These comments from the home secretary are damaging for our very democracy and foster a hostile environment towards UK civil society, which puts the safety of charities, lawyers and asylum seekers at risk.

“Charities are a core part of our society, connected to the people they work with, and who care deeply about the most vulnerable people in the UK and beyond.

“Civil society groups play an important role in promoting and informing public debate, driving social reform and supporting vulnerable communities.”

Care4Calais: Clear that home secretary hasn’t read report

A Care4Calais spokesperson said: “It’s clear that the home secretary hasn’t read the Charity Commission’s report, which has effectively given Care4Calais, under our new trustees, a clean bill of health. 

“The Charity Commission clearly acknowledges that the purpose of Care4Calais is to deliver humanitarian relief and assistance to refugees fleeing war, torture and modern slavery.

“They have recognised the rapid expansion of that work since we started in 2015 but found that our governance arrangements didn’t keep pace. The concerns are historic, relate solely to governance matters and do not reflect in any way the humanitarian work of our volunteers and staff.

“Importantly, the Commission found our political activity in advocating for the rights of refugees to be acceptable.”

NCVO: Braverman’s language ‘damaging to the effective working of charities’

Sarah Vibert, chief executive of NCVO, said: “All charities exist to improve and enhance our society, and one important way to do that is by championing the views of the communities they work with in the public discourse, as part of a healthy democracy. In fact, for many charities campaigning is the best way of meeting their charitable objects.

“In this instance, the home secretary has unfairly, and in an ill-considered way, used the outcomes of this report to criticise the broader, democratic, function of charities such as Care4Calais.

“The language that has been used by the home secretary is damaging to the effective working of charities, and creates a hostile climate where charities are more cautious about speaking out on issues. We would encourage her to rethink her comments and reflect on the impact they have.

“It is important that the government, and those in positions of power to affect change, understand and respect the value of seeking engagement from, and partnership with, charities to ensure that policy decisions are truly reflective of the diverse views of the people they represent.”

DSC: Report is about governance failures

A spokesperson for the Directory of Social Change said: “At the core of this story is the failure of governance at the charity concerned – which has nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of their charitable endeavour or lawyers.

“The Charity Commission has done a great job in supporting Care4Calais to get its governance right so that the charity can continue its vital work.

“This is a good example of where the Commission can truly help charities fix mistakes and move on.”

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