Conference speech promises 'firm but fair' new system to stop abuse by those who come to UK illegally
Home Secretary says forthcoming legislation will see biggest overhaul of “broken” asylum system in decades
05 October 2020
Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday made a major speech to the Conservative Party virtual conference in which she said the asylum system was "broken" and she would be bringing forward new legislation next year that will see "the biggest overhaul of our asylum system in decades".
Patel said the new "firm but fair" asylum system would be compassionate towards those in need and would welcome people through safe and legal routes, but it would stop abuses by "those who come here illegally making endless legal claims to remain in our Country at the expense of the British public".
The Home Secretary criticised asylum seekers who travel through multiple safe EU countries before reaching the UK by boat, saying they were "shopping around for where they claim asylum."
She continued: "Making that final and extremely dangerous Channel crossing to the United Kingdom, while lining the pockets of despicable international criminal gangs. Our broken system is enabling this international criminal trade. It is disregarding the most vulnerable, elbowing women and children in need to the side."
Patel said that under Conservative leadership, the UK has and always will provide sanctuary to those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny.
The Home Secretary criticised "do gooders" and "leftie lawyers" who defend the current asylum system and said they were "defending the indefensible". She said "those who are well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights. And yet, they seem to care little about the rights of the most vulnerable who are fleeing persecution, oppression and tyranny."
Patel concluded: "Reform the system, prosecute the criminals, protect the vulnerable. That is what a firm, but fair asylum system should look like, and that is what I intend to deliver. As Conservatives, we will protect those most in need and put the rights of those who respect the rules above those who take our country for a ride."
Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, said in response to the Priti Patel's speech: "The Tories talk about a broken immigration system, but they have been in power for a decade and are the political party that broke it. Recent experience suggests they have not learned any lessons at all, with unconscionable, absurd proposals about floating walls and creating waves in the English Channel to push back boats and sending people thousands of miles away to process claims. The truth is the Tories are devoid of compassion and competence."
The Law Society Gazette reported that the Law Society said Patel's insults against 'lefty lawyers' undermined the rule of law and risked leading not just to verbal abuse but to lawyers being physically attacked for doing their job.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director, said Patel was "delivering precisely the same rhetoric and intention that has for years done so much harm to so many women, men and children." Allen said it was "shameless and nonsensical" for the Home Secretary to claim to be fixing the asylum system while making it even less effective in providing the sanctuary that is its purpose.
The Refugee Council responded on Twitter by saying: "The asylum system is indeed broken and leaves vulnerable people to languish for months. The Home Sec. is wrong, however, to say that people arriving in small boats are doing so illegally. They have a clear right to do so under the Refugee Convention."
Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged the UK to uphold its 'fair and compassionate' asylum policies and said the current increase in Channel crossings was "far from a crisis".
"To be sure, the numbers arriving by boat have risen … to an estimated 6,000-7,000 this year. But the overall number of asylum claims in the UK has been falling. What has changed is the method of arrival, which has garnered media and political attention," the UNHCR said.
Following a number of recent media stories which claimed the UK was considering an Australian-style policy of offshoring asylum claims, the UNHCR UK Representative Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor warned: "Processing asylum claims offshore has been proven to cause great suffering and come at a huge financial cost. Putting morality and costs aside, it would not absolve the UK from its legal obligations."
The full section on immigration and asylum from the Home Secretary's speech yesterday is excerpted below.
October 4, 2020
Priti Patel: Fixing our broken asylum system
We believe everyone should play by the same rules.
And those values underpin our approach when it comes to immigration.
We made the British public a promise that this Conservative Government would end free movement.
And we will.
For the first time in decades, the British Government will determine who comes in and out of our country.
We will welcome people based on the skills they have to offer and the contribution they can make.
Not where they come from.
Those seeking to work, study or settle in the UK will need a sponsor and a visa.
Our new British points-based immigration system will attract the brightest and best talent to our nation.
Like the brilliant and dedicated doctors and nurses now able to use a fast-track visa to come and work in our NHS.
And the brightest and best scientists and academics who now benefit from the global talent route into the UK.
That is firm.
That is fair.
It is what the British people have demanded of their government for decades.
This Conservative Government is delivering.
OUR BROKEN ASYLUM SYSTEM
And I believe that it is by understanding the British people's lives and their priorities, that my direction will always be true.
Which means addressing the issues that people speak to me about day in day out.
And yes – people do speak to me about illegal migration and our asylum system.
Illegal migration is - and has always been - a complex issue.
It has plagued many Home Secretaries, many political parties and many Governments.
For years people have risked their lives to enter our country illegally.
Like those crossing the Channel in dangerous small boats.
If the solution to stop this was simple and straightforward, then believe me, this issue would have been resolved by now.
A fair asylum system should provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny.
But, ours doesn't.
Because our asylum system is fundamentally broken.
And we have a responsibility to act.
Right now, the most vulnerable are stuck in this broken system, with over forty thousand other people.
Almost half of these claims take a year or more to reach a decision.
Costing UK taxpayers over one billion pounds each year.
The highest amount in almost two decades.
And because of our broken system, the way people arrive in our country makes no difference to how their claim is treated.
Let me give you three examples of how our system has failed.
Take the example of a young person from Syria who arrived legally in the UK to work and to contribute to our country.
While they were here, the conflict in Syria deteriorated.
Making it unsafe to return home when their visa expired.
To guarantee their own safety and protection – they had no other option but to claim asylum here.
But they had to wait over 17 months for a decision.
That isn't fair.
Or, the example of someone who came to our country on a visa - but went on to abuse our values and our laws by committing an abhorrent crime.
Having served a spell in prison, they filed repeated legal challenges to stop their deportation, followed by numerous meritless asylum claims so that they could stay in our Country.
It took several court hearings at a cost to the taxpayer of tens thousands of pounds before we could finally do the right thing and remove them.
That isn't firm.
Or, take the example of someone who enters our country illegally on a small boat.
Travelling through multiple safe EU countries.
France, Italy, Spain.
Shopping around for where they claim asylum.
Making that final and extremely dangerous Channel crossing to the United Kingdom, while lining the pockets of despicable international criminal gangs.
Our broken system is enabling this international criminal trade.
It is disregarding the most vulnerable, elbowing women and children in need to the side.
Trampling over the weak.
That cannot be right.
All while the criminal gangs laugh in the face of the British people.
Well, I will not be complicit in that.
FIXING THE SYSTEM
So I will introduce a new system that is firm and fair.
Fair and compassionate towards those who need our help.
Fair by welcoming people through safe and legal routes.
But firm because we will stop the abuse of the system.
Firm because we will stop those who come here illegally making endless legal claims to remain in our Country at the expense of the British public.
And firm because we will expedite the removal of those who have no legitimate claim for protection.
After decades of inaction by successive governments we will address the moral, legal and practical problems with the asylum system.
Because what exists now is neither firm nor fair.
And I will bring forward legislation to deliver on that commitment next year.
I will take every necessary step to fix this broken system.
Amounting to the biggest overhaul of our asylum system in decades.
But I will be honest with you, this will take time.
So as we overhaul the system, I will accelerate our operational response to illegal migration.
We will continue to hunt down the criminal gangs who traffic people into our country.
I will continue to use the full force of our outstanding National Crime Agency and intelligence agencies to go after them.
We will make more immediate returns of those who come here illegally and break our rules, every single week.
And we will continue to examine all practical measures to effectively deter illegal migration.
And no doubt those who are well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights.
And yet, they seem to care little about the rights of the most vulnerable who are fleeing persecution, oppression and tyranny.
What about their right to live their lives securely and free from fear?
That is the most fundamental right.
And we've already heard from the Labour Party.
Claiming that that lives will be lost.
But lives are already being lost.
So do not let them peddle a false narrative that Conservatives do not have a proud history of providing a safe haven to those most in need.
From the expulsion of Ugandan Asians from a repressive regime, to proudly resettling more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU country, to supporting campaigners fleeing political persecution in Hong Kong.
Under Conservative leadership, the United Kingdom has and always will provide sanctuary when the lights are being switched off on people's liberties.
As for those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do gooders, the leftie lawyers, the Labour Party – they are defending the indefensible.
And that is something I will never do.
If at times it means being unpopular on Twitter. I will bear it.
If at times it means Tony Blair's spin doctor mocking my accent. So be it.
And if at times it means Labour Members of Parliament attempting to silence me because I do not conform to their idea of what an ethnic minority woman should stand for. I will stomach it.
Because as Conservatives, we do not measure the depth of our compassion in two hundred and eighty characters on Twitter, but in the actions we take and the choices we make.
This Conservative Government will continue to stand up for the hardworking, law-abiding majority who play by the rules.
And take action against the minority who do not.
Providing a safe haven to those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny.
But I will not be complicit in an international criminal trade in asylum seekers, elbowing the most vulnerable to the side.
Reform the system, prosecute the criminals, protect the vulnerable.
That is what a firm, but fair asylum system should look like, and that is what I intend to deliver.
As Conservatives, we will protect those most in need and put the rights of those who respect the rules above those who take our country for a ride.
Because without firmness, there will be no fairness.