Jenrick regrets painting over Mickey Mouse mural at children’s asylum centre

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick has said he regretted ordering the painting over of murals at a centre for asylum seeker children.

i revealed last year that Mr Jenrick personally ordered the removal of artworks of cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and The Jungle Book‘s Baloo because they were “too welcoming”.

Mr Jenrick, now a backbench MP after resigning his post in December, faced an angry backlash from across the political spectrum, including criticism from Conservative MPs and Reform Party honorary president and UKIP founder Nigel Farage, who described the move as “mean”.

Sources told that the murals had not been painted back on the walls, and ministers had no plans to do so.

The ex-minister told The Sun‘s Never Mind the Ballots show that he regretted the move, but remained “very concerned about the number of adults coming into our country illegally who pose as children”.

“It did happen,” he said. “What I wanted to ensure and I still believe is right, is that not children, but adults, if you break into our country then that should be treated with all due seriousness. That’s a crime. Those places should be places of law enforcement, of course.”

When pressed on whether he regretted the move, Mr Jenrick said: “Yeah, I don’t want to treat children in anything other than a compassionate and fair manner.

“I was, and remain, very concerned about the number of adults coming into our country illegally who pose as children.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, told i that Mr Jenrick was “right to express regret about what he did and say that children who come to our country alone should only ever be treated compassionately and fairly”.

“We know from our work that they are very traumatised and also have physical injuries when they arrive,” he said.

“Too often, as a result of the government’s hostile environment policies and hostile rhetoric, there is a callous disregard for their basic right to dignity. It is time for the Government to carry out a wide-ranging independent review into the treatment of unaccompanied children who come to our country seeking safety.”

It is understood that private contractors were used to paint over the murals in July 2023 after staff at the Kent Intake Unit refused to comply.

At the time, Whitehall officials privately expressed their disapproval at Mr Jenrick’s order, describing it as an “unforced error”.

One former Tory government adviser told i: “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 f***ing disgrace.”

Labour said Mr Jenrick had “put Britain to shame” and the Liberal Democrats described the order as “the worst kind of trivial nastiness” and a “waste of taxpayer money”.

Mr Jenrick previously suggested the murals were painted over because they were not “age appropriate”.

His new admission comes as the Government’s flagship migration policy, the plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, is locked in a battle between Conservative MPs and the Lords.

Opposition peers have been pressing for changes to the draft law to make sure Rwanda is a safe destination, but the Government has ruled out making concessions. It is set to return to the House of Lords after MPs vote on it in the Commons.

Labour peers have said they will continue to push for changes to the bill, including a ban on sending people who have assisted the UK military to Rwanda.

Mr Jenrick resigned as immigration minister over the bill last year, saying “stronger protections” were needed to end “the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralysing the scheme.”

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