A government advertising campaign that used billboards on vans to tell illegal immigrants to “go home” has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for using misleading statistics.
The campaign, which saw the vans drive around six London boroughs in July this year, drew 224 complaints to the ASA, including some from groups representing migrants in the UK, legal academics and the Labour peer Lord Lipsey.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is even investigating the Home Office over its immigration tactics, including the advertising campaign.
However, it is not complaints that the campaign was offensive and irresponsible that have led to the ASA ban.
The majority of complaints were about the use of the words “go home”, saying that it was reminiscent of slogans used to attack immigrants in the past.
Whilst ASA “recognised” that the poster and phrase were “likely to be distasteful to some” and that different wording could have been used, the agency concluded that the poster was “unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or distress.”
It means Home Office ‘Go Home’ ad can’t be used again “in it’s current form” . We haven’t heard yet whether it will be used again at all
— Fatima Manji (@fatimamanji) October 9, 2013
And still waiting for Home office to provide data on how many illegal immigrants called up asking to ‘Go Home’ as a result
— Fatima Manji (@fatimamanji) October 9, 2013
However, some complaints were about a claim on the vans that there had been “106 arrests last week in your area”. Small print said that the data was based on the week beginning 30 June 2013.
We have always been clear that this campaign was about encouraging illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily and was not targeted at particular racial or ethnic groups. Home Office
The Home Office said data used to support the “106 arrests” figure was the most reliable and recent information on arrests made by the west, north and east London immigration compliance and enforcement teams, and from seven police custody suites in the six pilot boroughs, during the week beginning June 30.
However, ASA upheld the complaint. The ASA adjudication said: “Because the data on which the claim was based related to a significant part of London north of the Thames rather than to the specific areas in which the poster was displayed, and because the data did not relate to the week prior to the campaign, we concluded the claim was misleading and had not been substantiated.”
The ruling means the advert “must not appear again in its current form.”
It’s time the home secretary promised that she will ditch those ad vans and never again authorise government slogans that are reminiscent of the 1970s’ National Front. Yvette Cooper
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the ASA have concluded that our pilot was neither offensive nor irresponsible.
“We have always been clear that this campaign was about encouraging illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily and was not targeted at particular racial or ethnic groups.
“In respect of the ASA’s other findings, we can confirm that the poster will not be used again in its current format.”
However, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the “divisive gimmick” had shown the government was misleading the public, as well as using a slogan “reminiscent of the 1970s’ National Front”.
“The ad vans sent out by the Home Office were a divisive gimmick and now the ASA has confirmed they were also misleading too,” she said.
“The ASA has now confirmed that the phrase ‘go home’ was reminiscent of slogans used in the past to attack immigrants to the UK and that different language could have been used instead.
“They have also confirmed that the information used on the vans was misleading and should not be used again.
“The number of prosecutions for employing illegal migrants has halved since the election, fewer illegal migrants are being stopped at the border and fewer foreign criminals are being deported.
“As we said in the summer, if Theresa May was serious about tackling illegal immigration she would be concentrating on tackling problems at border control, deal with long delays in getting electronic checks in place and the bureaucratic failings at the UK Border Agency that have prevented foreign criminals being deported, rather than these kinds of shameful gimmicks.
“It’s time the home secretary promised that she will ditch those ad vans and never again authorise government slogans that are reminiscent of the 1970s’ National Front.”
The ASA ruling comes as an inspection into the UK’s e-Borders system revealed a number of failings, including that the system was only being used at one UK airport to prevent “high risk individuals” from entering the country, and that hundreds of thousands of smuggling alerts had been deleted.