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Hiding shambolic policy behind shameless tirades

Suella Braverman recently made not one but two much-reported speeches within barely a week.

At the time, it was hard to look past the increasingly hateful rhetoric on show - a rhetoric that disguises her incompetence and the impact of the policies she pursues.

While the language must be challenged, it is no less vital to improve understanding of just how disastrous the underlying policy is.

Toxicity is used to excuse the policy. And the hostility it stirs tends to demand more of both – no matter the harm this is doing to near everyone.

So what is that policy?

At the end of December 2020, the previous Home Secretary, Priti Patel, made changes to her immigration rules.

This signalled a new policy of simply to refusing to process thousands of asylum claims – on grounds that the Home Office would instead return or remove people to other countries for them to take responsibility for people’s claims.

In the short period between the new rules being published and their taking effect, Amnesty wrote to the Home Office setting out several concerns including:

We are gravely concerned that the new rules introduce wide scope for creating and exacerbating existing backlogs in the asylum system.

The policy was later made law by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

Throughout, however, the Home Secretary at least retained discretion to end the limbo of anyone subjected to this policy and consider their claim if she considered their wait had gone on too long.

The impact of this policy

The policy’s impact has been an utter catastrophe.

When it was introduced the number of people waiting for the Home Office to make an initial asylum decision stood at 64,895 (including dependents), 72% of whom had been waiting for more than six months.

Two and half years later, that backlog had risen to 175,457, 80% of whom waiting for more than six months.

Most people stuck in this Government-imposed limbo are not permitted to work and reliant on the Home Office for some place to live.

This prolonged uncertainty is horribly debilitating for people. It is also enormously costly to the taxpayer, with the Home Office now spending around £4 billion a year – much of which on accommodating tens of thousands of people.

Doubling down rather than facing reality

Braverman has chosen to ignore the facts, the harm and the costs – instead doubling down on her predecessor’s policy failure.

She introduced legislation – which Parliament has now passed – that in future will maintain the policy of refusing to process claims while removing any discretion for her to do anything different.

This will turn a policy that has already proved calamitous into something permanent and inflexible – unless and until Parliament passes legislation to repeal it.

How to make sense of any of this?

To recap…

Ministers have introduced a policy that has predictably created a hugely costly and harmful backlog in the asylum system. By doing so, they have created the very thing of which they complain – a broken asylum system. Yet, even after their folly has been so dramatically revealed, Braverman and Rishi Sunak persist with the same policy.

What – if anything – can explain this?

To begin with, Ministers have argued that refusing to process claims will deter people seeking asylum from coming to the UK.

This was always a bad argument. But having made and acted on it, Ministers now seem entirely incapable of confronting their own error of judgment – not to mention of law and morality.

And still this costly foolishness persists

The Government has made some effort to reduce the backlog.

Over the last year or so, it has reversed its policy of not processing claims for many people whose nationality provides strong indication of their refugee status – if they arrived before the middle of 2022.

But in their desperation to reduce the Home Office spending they escalated, Ministers are now risking making thousands of refugees homeless in the UK – by quickly forcing people out of accommodation on recognising their entitlement to asylum here.

Meanwhile, Braverman’s determination to make Patel’s hopeless policy permanent and inflexible remains as strong as ever.

Even if the backlog is reduced in the short-term, it can only start racing up again once the temporary push to grant asylum gives way.

People seeking asylum, lawyers and human rights laws can all, therefore, expect further attacks.

The Home Secretary has ruined the asylum system, entrenched the policy that has achieved this and left herself with a stark choice – either give up and admit the wreckage she’s made or keep casting her barbs at others to distract from her own mess.