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Braverman attacks modern slavery victims and student families

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In a bizarrely unhinged interview with the Sun on Sunday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has laid into modern slavery victims and the family members of postgraduate students. These two unlikely groups are apparently the latest bogeymen to be stopping Britain from being great again.

Promising “dramatic action” to stop small boats from crossing the Channel, Braverman then vowed to reform the Modern Slavery Act. This was literally just “reformed” by Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Act 2022. Braverman lays into Albanians again, around half of whom are found by the Home Office to be genuine refugees, many of whom have been trafficked to the United Kingdom for exploitation.

For a barrister formerly practicing as an immigration lawyer until 2015, she shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what trafficking actually is, claiming that trafficking victims “have actively sought to come to the UK through an illegal, illicit and dangerous method”. This is quite simply wrong or, at best, irrelevant.

The definition of trafficking used in the United Kingdom is that set out in Article 4(a) of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings :

“Trafficking in human beings” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs; 

b The consent of a victim of “trafficking in human beings” to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used; 

c The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in human beings” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article; 

d “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age; 

e “Victim” shall mean any natural person who is subject to trafficking in human beings as defined in this article.

This in turn derives from the ‘Palermo’ Protocol on trafficking to the UN Convention on Transnational and Organised Crime.

Braverman then goes on to claim that there is a “really low bar” for establishing that you are a victim of trafficking. This is not true either, as a matter of law at least. The normal civil standard of proof applies: you have to show it more likely than not that you are a victim. UNHCR and others had argued that the lower standard of proof applicable to refugees should applying to victims of trafficking but lost that battle in court.

The usual suspects of “convicted paedophiles, convicted drug dealers, convicted murderers, who served their sentences in English jails” are trotted out as allegedly relying on measures aimed at protecting victims of modern slavery. There is a powerful odeur de chat — “and I’m not making this up” — about these claims. But even if true, I seriously doubt that any such individuals actually succeed in their claims and even if they did, they are already excluded from the immigration status normally granted to victims of trafficking.

A more common occurrence is for trafficking victims to be prosecuted and convicted of minor criminal offences such as cannabis farming which they were forced to do because they were trafficked. Some of these convictions have later been overturned by the courts.

I very much doubt that the Modern Slavery Act or UK ratification of the international trafficking conventions is responsible for the decline in the number of enforced removals, a decline that began before the Modern Slavery Act became law. It is simply the latest excuse.

Braverman then turns to that other bête noire, low skilled workers. Apparently there are too many of them. The fact there is literally no immigration route for low skilled workers is besides the point. To justify her assertion, she points to the family members of students. But only post graduate students can bring their families. It is true that there has been a sharp increase in dependents of students, from around 30,000 in the year ended June 2021 to just over 80,000 in the year ended June 2022 (thank you to Alan Manning and Marley Morris for pointing me to this on Twitter!). To characterise all these people as “low skilled” seems a tad insulting. Perhaps more to the point, it also looks like it may presage a retrenchment from the previous policy of encouraging international students to come to the UK on the basis that they are high skilled.

We await more details in her speech to the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday afternoon.

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Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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