Ad vans warning illegal immigrants to ‘go home’ are to be investigated by the advertising watchdog.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has launched a probe after 60 complaints were lodged over the concerns that the ads were ‘reminiscent of slogans used by racist groups to attack immigrants in the past’.
The Home Office is also being investigated after claims that posters boasting of ‘106 arrests last week in your area’ were misleading.
Vans displaying billboards warning overstaying migrants ‘Go home, or you'll be picked up and deported’ toured six London boroughs last month.
The move caused a major coalition row, with Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable accusing the Tories of trying to stoke up a ‘sense of fear’.
But the Home Office and Downing Street insisted the scheme was ‘working’ and the hotline had received calls.
Migrant groups, Labour politicians and unions also reacted angrily to the campaign and dozens of complaints were made to the advertising watchdog.
The ASA has launched now a formal investigation. A spokesman said: ‘Complainants have expressed concerns that the ad, in particular the phrase 'Go Home', is offensive and irresponsible because it is reminiscent of slogans used by racist groups to attack immigrants in the past and could incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multicultural communities.
‘They've also challenged whether it is misleading because it implies arrest is the automatic consequence of remaining in the UK without permission. We will publish our findings in due course.’‘Separately, some complainants have challenged whether the claim “106 arrests last week in your area” is misleading.
However Tory treasury minister Sajid Javid staunchly defended the campaign, which could be rolled out nationwide.
He said: ‘It is a trial and the purpose of the trial is to see what is the result.
‘It is quite right that we are looking at ways to tackle illegal immigration.’
The ASA's probe is in addition to another investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into a wave of immigration checks across the country.
The EHRC launched the probe after it was claimed that the spot checks - conducted at transport hubs up and down the country - were being carried out by border officials purely on the basis of ethnicity.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said: ‘This is another embarrassing blow to a Government which continues to fail to deal with immigration.
‘With more people absconding at the border and fewer illegal immigrants being returned, David Cameron and Theresa May can't even get the basics right, stumbling from one shambles to another.
‘You've got to question the Government's competence. We need effective action on immigration not offensive stunts.’
Lord Ouseley, former chief executive of the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was possible to find and remove illegal immigants and appear tough on immigration without being 'nasty'.
But backbench Tory MP Peter Bone said if the pilot is effective it should be rolled out across the country.
'If this works and people voluntarily go home because of it who have been afraid to go forward before because they have been worried about getting arrested and if it does anything to tackle the evil criminal gangs that bring people here unlawfully then it's a good thing,' he told the BBC.