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Priti Patel: an unparalleled record of failure

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Priti Patel has resigned as Home Secretary. She jumped before she was pushed, with incoming new Prime Minister Liz Truss expected to replace the failed Patel with former Attorney General Suella Braverman.

Patel was appointed Home Secretary by Boris Johnson in July 2019. Here we take a look at her immigration legacy over the three years of her tenure. To cut a long story short, she announced much and achieved nothing. Patel failed at everything, leaving the Home Office in a far worse state than she found it. She was the perfect Home Secretary for a Boris Johnson government.

Let us judge Patel by her own yardstick. Fully half of her resignation letter is devoted to immigration and asylum issues. Here on this website we are obsessed with immigration and asylum. It’s all we do. But we might hope that the Home Secretary, who is responsible for policing, crime, drugs policy, national security and more, was not as single minded as us.

Patel refers in her letter to the ending of free movement, the taking back control of our borders, “ending abuses of the immigration and asylum system” and a “firm but fair” approach. Yet it was on Patel’s watch that control of the border was so spectacularly lost by a dramatic increase in small boat crossings of the Channel.

In 2018, almost no-one was crossing the Channel in a small boat. By June 2022, the latest statistics available, an average of 3,000 people per month were entering the UK by that route.

All Patel can do is claim to have “reviewed” push backs at sea. None of these dangerous operations actually took place. She refers to military interceptions in the Channel. The navy is reported to be keen to end the resource-intensive arrangement, which some have characterised as a taxi service for refugees.

Patel refers to the “world-first Migration and Economic Development Partnership” with Rwanda. A piece of paper is easy to sign. The reality is that no-one has yet been removed to Rwanda.

New returns arrangements with India, Albania, Serbia, Nigeria and Pakistan are cited, with more in apparently in the pipeline. But the reality is that enforced removals and voluntary departures are at almost unprecedentedly low levels. The total number of enforced returns stood at around 14,000 per year in 2010. When Patel took over it had already halved, to just over 7,000. By 2021, the number had fallen to 2,761. For all the tough talk about asylum seekers, a total of 113 failed asylum seekers were removed in the whole of 2021.

Patel asserts with pride the deportation of nearly 12,000 foreign national offenders on her watch. In fact, numbers plummeted during the pandemic — which was inevitable and unavoidable — but have barely recovered since. She was responsible for deporting far fewer foreign national offenders than her predecessors.

The outgoing Home Secretary claims to have “strengthened our country’s proud record of providing sanctuary and refuge to those in genuine need.” She doesn’t mention the 12,000 Afghans still stuck in hotels after last summer’s partial evacuation, in which pets were seemingly prioritised over people. She omits to mention the painfully, humiliatingly slow start to the Ukrainian scheme, which was universally condemned. Nor does she refer to the knock-on effect of her decision to maintain the imposition of visa controls on Ukrainian nationals, a policy pursued by no other country in Europe. Resources had to be shuffled around within the already dysfunctional department. Waiting times for families and others seeking to come to the UK have soared, the asylum backlog creeps ever higher, Afghans are effectively abandoned. The lost opportunity costs of Patel’s bad decisions have crippled her department.

Patel does not claim credit for one of the few positive developments occurring on her watch. The success rate for asylum claims rose to new, unprecedented heights. In the most recent statistics, for the year ended June 2022, the success rate for initial asylum applications to the Home Office was 76%. A further 50% of appeals against refusals then went on to succeed. Those crossing the Channel in small boats, who Patel wants to send to Rwanda, are overwhelmingly genuine refugees.

The Home Office really is providing sanctuary and refuge to those in genuine need. It is a painfully slow process, though. Refugees have to wait for years for a decision, during which time they are prevented from working and forced to subsist on destitution-level asylum support. The delays are terrible for the refugees but also terrible for the public purse. One gift Patel leaves her successor is an extremely expensive asylum backlog that grew from around 48,000 undecided applications when Patel took over to 123,000 as she departs.

Finally, Patel takes the time to deride “our political opponents, and left-wing activists, lawyers and campaigners who have sought to block these measures”. She accuses them of standing up for criminals, terrorists, people smugglers and others. The fascistic tone to her diatribe is undeniable but what really stands out is a total lack of self awareness. It is not they who have overseen the collapse of the asylum system and de facto abandonment of enforced removals and voluntary departures. It is she.

Typically of Patel, she cannot find the space to mention the Windrush scandal. The compensation scheme was botched, several victims died while waiting and the promised review of the hostile environment laws never took place. The Wendy Williams reports appear to be merely gathering dust.

Nichola Kelly recently revealed that Patel had a list of around twenty so-called “priorities” on a whiteboard in her office. If you think you have twenty priorities, in reality you have none. As far as we can tell, Priti Patel cherished no grand vision for how to do things differently or better; there was nothing Patel really wanted to achieve in office. In that, she succeeded.

There’s lots wrong with our asylum, immigration and citizenship laws. If you want to be properly informed, check out my book Welcome to Britain, now available in paperback.

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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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