Skip to main content

Home Secretary sets out plans for sweeping reform of the asylum system against widespread criticism


Consultation opens for responses until 6 May 2021 following launch of New Plan for Immigration

Date of Publication:

Home Secretary Priti Patel has today set out details of the Government's "fair but firm" New Plan for Immigration, which would see sweeping reforms of the asylum system.

New Plan for ImmigrationThe 49-page New Plan for Immigration policy statement can be read here.

Announcing the plan in the Commons, the Home Secretary said: "At the heart of our New Plan for Immigration is a simple principle: fairness. Access to the UK's asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers."

Priti Patel said the new plan has three major objectives: "Firstly, to increase the fairness and efficacy of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum. Secondly, to deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger. Thirdly, to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here."

Patel stated: "For the first time, whether you enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how your asylum claim progresses, and on your status in the UK if that claim is successful. Those who prevail with claims having entered illegally will receive a new temporary protection status rather than an automatic right to settle, will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK, will have limited family reunion rights and will have no recourse to public funds except in cases of destitution."

On changes to the appeals system, Patel added: "To tackle the practice of making multiple and sequential (often last minute and unmeritorious) claims and appeals which frequently frustrate removal from the UK, we will introduce a 'one-stop' process to require all rights-based claims to be brought and considered together in a single assessment upfront."

The Home Secretary said that the end result of the plan will be "[a]n asylum system that helps the most vulnerable and is not openly gamed by economic migrants or exploited by people smugglers."

Following the publication of the plan, a consultation has been opened here (with a dedicated consultation website available here) and is open for responses until 6 May 2021. Chris Philp, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, said: "We will use this opportunity to listen to a wide range of views from stakeholders and sectors as well as members of the public."

Of particular interest to readers of EIN, chapter 5 of the plan details the Government's proposals for the 'streamlining' of asylum claims and appeals. The key points from the chapter are that the Government intends to:

"• Develop a 'good faith' requirement setting out principles for people and their representatives when dealing with public authorities and the courts, such as not providing misleading information or bringing evidence late where it was reasonable to do so earlier;

• Introduce an expanded 'one-stop' process to ensure that asylum, human rights claims, referrals as a potential victim of modern slavery and any other protection matters are made and considered together, ahead of any appeal hearing. This requires people and their representatives to present their case honestly and comprehensively – setting out full details and evidence to the Home Office and not adding more claims later which could have been made at the start;

• Provide more generous access to advice, including legal advice, to support people to raise issues, provide evidence as early as possible and avoid last minute claims;

• Introduce an expedited process for claims and appeals made from detention, providing access to justice while quickly disposing of any unmeritorious claims;

• Provide a quicker process for judges to take decisions on claims which the Home Office refuse without the right of appeal, reducing delays and costs from judicial reviews;

• Introduce a new system for creating a panel of pre-approved experts (e.g. medical experts) who report to the court, or require experts to be jointly agreed by parties;

• Expand the fixed recoverable costs regime to cover immigration judicial reviews (JRs) and encourage the increased use of wasted costs orders in asylum and immigration matters;

• Introduce a new fast-track appeal process. This will be for cases that are deemed to be manifestly unfounded or new claims, made late. This will include late referrals for modern slavery insofar as they prevent removal or deportation."

Critical responses to the Home Secretary's announcement were numerous. Only a small sample follows.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that it would be responding in detail publicly and via the consultation to address all points.

UNHCR UK noted on Twitter: "Everyone, including irregular arrivals, has a universal right to claim asylum. States also have a right to manage borders, via fair & orderly asylum systems. A better designed, simple, and properly resourced system can result in a fairer & faster process, with lower costs."

A spokesperson for the UNHCR was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "Anyone seeking asylum should be able to claim in their intended destination or another safe country." The spokesperson added that the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol do not oblige asylum seekers to apply in the first safe country they encounter.

"Some claimants have very legitimate reasons to seek protection in specific countries, including family or other links … Travel is often circuitous, by land or sea, with possible interruptions for any number of reasons. Article 31 refers to refugees who had already settled in another country and then moved for personal convenience," the UNHCR spokesperson said.

Professor Dallal Stevens, an expert on asylum from the School of Law at the University of Warwick, said: "Home Secretary, Priti Patel, clearly has no understanding of UK asylum law and policy, or its history. If she did, she would realise that much of what she is proposing is either (a) inaccurate, (b) unrealistic, (c) existed previously or (d) unlikely to achieve her goals."

Stevens noted, for example: "The Home Office claims that 'for the first time' illegal entry via a 'safe third country', such as France, 'would have an impact' on claims. This is not true. Under current law, failure to take advantage of a reasonable opportunity to make an asylum claim in a safe country affects the asylum seeker's 'credibility', with serious consequences for the claim."

Stevens concluded: "These proposals continue the UK's approach to asylum of many decades: the criminalisation, exclusion and deterrence of asylum seekers for political reasons. They will not prevent desperate people from arriving; nor will they offer the protections needed by those at risk."

Goldsmith Chambers' barrister Sangeetha Iengar told Sky News: "What's proposed in this new plan is nothing that will actually improve the efficiency of the asylum process - it's unworkable and unlawful, and it's attempting to undo the Refugee Convention."

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, was quoted by ITV News as saying: "We should not judge how worthy someone is of asylum by how they arrived here. The proposals effectively create an unfair two-tiered system, whereby someone's case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country and not on their need for protection. This is inhumane."

Refugee Action posted: "Priti Patel has chosen a disgraceful path on asylum. An outrage we should all fight against."

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK said on Twitter: "Today is a dark day in Britain's history. The country which was once at the forefront of championing the refugee convention has announced it no longer supports the right to claim asylum and be granted sanctuary here from violence. The changes being announced are cruel and dishonest. The government knows full well that those seeking safety are forced to cross borders irregularly. An asylum system designed to penalise this is lying about its purpose."

The Refugee Council said in a statement: "The government is effectively creating a two tier system where some refugees are unfairly punished for the way they are able to get to the UK. This is wholly unjust and undermines the UK's long tradition of providing protection for people, regardless of how they have managed to find their way to our shores, who have gone on to become proud British citizens contributing as doctors, nurses and entrepreneurs to our communities. All refugees deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity, and it's a stain on 'Global Britain' to subject some refugees to differential treatment."

Freedom from Torture told the BBC: "This is a betrayal of the compassionate migration system Patel promised and risks trampling all that has been achieved for refugees."

Responding in the Commons for the opposition, Labour's shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: "Today's plans will do next to nothing to address criminal gangs and abandons people in danger." Labour Peer Alf Dubs said: "The [Home Office] has closed the only two legal routes for refugee children stranded in Europe, including lone children and those with family here, to seek asylum in the UK. This is not 'fair but firm' - it keeps families apart and lacks compassion. Removing legal routes to safety doesn't prevent criminality - it fuels it. The day the legal routes for refugee children seeking asylum here was closed was a field day for people traffickers and smugglers who exploit despair."

An interesting and less concerned reaction from Professor Alan Manning of the LSE (which can be read here) predicts that the Government's proposals will turn out to have much less impact than both proponents and opponents suggest. Manning says there is little that is new and it's not much of a plan. He notes that what plan there is sounds "eerily reminiscent" of the Labour Government's 1998 White Paper 'Fairer, Faster and Firmer'.