As Suella Braverman stands to address her party faithful in Manchester this week, she has serious questions to answer about the failures of the department she oversees. And yet last week, instead of working to fix the mess that is the UK asylum system, she jetted off to the US to peddle an isolationist and flawed view of refugee law and policy, motivated it seems, more by self-promotion and political posturing than in tackling the real failures of her Governments broken asylum system.
The home secretary’s intervention was not the serious work of the leader in waiting she hopes to be, but yet more juvenile game playing. It makes Britain look small on the one hand and untrustworthy on the other and like many of the government’s recent announcements on refugee and asylum policy you have to question whether it was a serious intervention seeking solutions or yet more playing to their base for an upcoming leadership election.
The thesis of her speech was that the definition of a refugee has broadened so much that anyone who is gay or a woman could be granted refugee protection. This is just not true. In 2022 just 2% of all applications for asylum were made on the basis of sexual orientation and around three quarters of those applications were accepted as valid at initial decision.
The asylum system is currently failing, but with over 175,000 people currently in the asylum backlog that failure is not because of an upsurge in claims based on sexual orientation but more likely because the home secretary seems more interested in grandstanding than doing the hard work necessary to fix the problem.
The truth is the asylum process in the UK places a high bar on granting protection, it is rigorous and an individual has to have a strong and credible case, tested by independent evidence. Purely fearing discrimination, as the home secretary suggested, has never been enough to be considered as a refugee.
Her latest strategy appears to not only be saying that people who arrive irregularly into the UK cannot be asylum seekers, but now that also those who are granted refugee status are not actually refugees.
This is despicable. When we consider the movement of refugees across the globe, we need to have an international perspective. We cannot be isolationist, but accept we are in a connected world. We should be building alliances around the world in order to collaborate on how best to support refugees in our current age, not promoting the idea that they are not our “problem” or do not qualify for refuge — that is not grown up government.
The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention is a hugely important international agreement, providing a framework to ensure that refugees are not returned to a country where they face persecution.
But the convention is not the reason why our asylum system is in a mess. If the home secretary wanted to fix our system, she could start with speeding up good quality decision making, growing safe routes for refugees and effectively and humanely removing those whose asylum application are not successful. Every day that she shifts blame or plays games is another day that the UK taxpayer continues to pay the mounting costs of her failure.
Not taking anyone who has travelled through France, whilst also blocking safe routes for asylum seekers to reach here is not a solution to the challenges we face. If every country followed that logic European border countries including Italy, Greece and Spain would face unsustainable pressures. Our British sense of fairness demands we give those desperate enough to travel here despite the dangers a least a fair hearing.
My question for the home secretary is what are her serious proposals to fix the failures of the asylum system. Her current arguments do not make sense if you follow them through, they are short termist and seem focused on self promotion rather than actually seeking to solve the challenges we face. This kind of shallow nonsense – that I can’t imagine she honestly believes – undermines the fragile international community, weakens the alliance of liberal democratic western nations and ultimately makes Britain look ridiculous.
I don’t expect to agree with our home secretary on everything, or even most things, but I and the British people should expect her to act with honesty, wisdom, intelligence and authority. Looks like we’ve been expecting too much.