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Home Secretary party conference speech on asylum – full text


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The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, delivered a keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday. Around half the speech was given over to what she repeatedly called the UK’s “broken” asylum system. I thought a transcript would be available by this morning but can’t find it, so have created one based on the subtitles of the YouTube video. Those interested can find the text below; I’ve omitted the first half of the speech which isn’t relevant to asylum policy.

Patel also gave an interview to the Sunday Times fleshing out her proposals a little:

  • She “plans to bring in a two-tier system that will create a legal assumption that people who use illegal routes to come to Britain will not be granted asylum, while those who use new routes designed to identify the most vulnerable will find it easier”.
  • These new routes would involve “work[ing] with the UN and refugee groups to identify the most vulnerable in camps in the Middle East who might apply for asylum”.
  • Patel admits that “we will still have to look at every single case” but “the instruction to courts will be that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, those coming by boat who could have sought asylum elsewhere in Europe will be rejected”.
  • The “fair borders bill” would also involve “tightening the law to ensure that asylum claimants cannot launch endless appeals in which they make different claims about why they should be allowed to stay”.

As Colin has tweeted, all this looks like a tired rehash of New Labour asylum policies. For example, judges are already directed to doubt the claims of asylum seekers who travel through safe countries: section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. That Act, incidentally, is one of three with “asylum” in the title since 2000, which rather undermines the Home Secretary’s claim that “our asylum system has not been reformed for 20 years”.

The reality is constant legislative attacks on the rights of refugees — only now in a context of far fewer asylum seekers than 20 years ago, of whom a clear majority are now recognised as refugees, but with a stack of pending cases that has tripled since 2015. Tackling the backlog would be a better use of Home Office resources than trying to build a big, beautiful wall in the English Channel or send asylum seekers to the moon.

Transcript of Priti Patel asylum speech:

We believe everyone should play by the same rules, and those values underpin our approach when it comes to immigration. We made the British public a promise that this Conservative government would end free movement, and we will.

For the first time in decades, the British government will determine who comes in and out of our country. We will welcome people based on the skills they have to offer and the contribution they can make, not where they come from. Those seeking to work, study or settle in the UK will need a sponsor and a visa. Our new British points-based immigration system will attract the brightest and the best talent to our nation, like the brilliant and dedicated doctors and nurses now able to use a fast track visa to come and work in our NHS, and the brightest and the best scientists and academics who now benefit from the Global Talent route into the UK. 

That is firm, that is fair. It is what the British people have demanded of their government for decades. This Conservative government is delivering.

And I believe that it is by understanding the British people’s lives and their priorities that my direction will always be true. Which means addressing the issues that people speak to me about day in day out. And yes, people do speak to me about illegal migration and our asylum system. 

Illegal migration is and always has been a complex issue. It has plagued many Home Secretaries, many political parties and many governments. For years people have risked their lives to enter our country illegally, like those crossing the Channel in dangerous small boats. If the solution to stop this was simple and straightforward, then believe me, this issue would have been resolved by now.

A fair asylum system should provide a safe haven to those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny. But ours doesn’t, because our asylum system is fundamentally broken, and we have a responsibility to act. Right now the most vulnerable are stuck in this broken system with over 40,000 other people. Almost half of these claims take a year or more to reach a decision, costing UK taxpayers over one billion pounds each year — the highest amount in almost two decades. And because of our broken system, the way people arrive in our country makes no difference to how their claim is treated.

Let me give you three examples of how our system has failed.

Take the example of a young person from Syria who arrived legally to the UK to work and contribute to our country. While they were here the conflict in Syria deteriorated, making it unsafe for them to return home when their visa expired. To guarantee their own safety and protection, they had no other option but to claim asylum here, but they had to wait over 17 months for a decision. That isn’t fair.

Or the example of someone who came to our country on a visa but went on to abuse our values and our laws by committing an abhorrent crime. Having served a spell in prison, they filed repeated legal challenges to stop their deportation, followed by numerous meritless asylum claims so that they could stay in our country. It took several court hearings at a cost to the taxpayer of tens of thousands of pounds before we could finally do the right thing and remove them. That isn’t firm. 

Or take the example of someone who enters our country illegally on a small boat, travelling through multiple safe EU countries — France, Italy, Spain — shopping around for where they can claim asylum, making that final and extremely dangerous Channel crossing to the United Kingdom while lining the pockets of despicable international criminal gangs. Our broken system is enabling this international criminal trade. It is disregarding the most vulnerable, elbowing women and children in need to the side, trampling over the weak. That cannot be right. All while the criminal gangs laugh in the face of the British people.

Well, I will not be complicit in that. So I will introduce a new system that is firm and fair. 

Fair and compassionate towards those who need our help. Fair by welcoming people through safe and legal routes, but firm because we will stop the abuse of the system. Firm because we will stop those who come here illegally making endless legal claims to remain in our country at the expense of the British public. And firm because we will expedite the removal of those who have no legitimate claim for protection.

After decades of inaction by successive governments, we will address the moral legal and practical problems with the asylum system. Because what exists now is neither firm nor fair. And I will bring forward legislation to deliver on that commitment next year. I will take every necessary step to fix this broken system, amounting to the biggest overhaul of our asylum system in decades.

But I’ll be honest with you, this will take time. So as we overhaul the system, I will accelerate our operational response to illegal migration. We will continue to hunt down the criminal gangs who traffic people into our country. I will continue to use the full force of our National Crime Agency and intelligence agencies to go after them. We will make more immediate returns of those who come here illegally and break our rules every single week. And we will continue to examine all practical measures to effectively deter illegal migration.

And no doubt those who are well rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights. And yet they seem to care little about the rights of the most vulnerable who are fleeing persecution, oppression and tyranny. What about their right to live their lives securely and free from fear? That is the most fundamental right.

And we’ve already heard from the Labour Party claiming that lives will be lost. But lives are already being lost. So do not let them peddle a false narrative that Conservatives do not have a proud history of providing a safe haven to the most in need, from the expulsion of Ugandan Asians from a repressive regime, to proudly resettling more refugees from outside Europe than any other EU country, to supporting campaigners fleeing political persecution in Hong Kong. Under Conservative leadership, the United Kingdom has and always will provide sanctuary when the lights are being switched off on people’s liberties.

And for those defending the broken system — the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party — they are defending the indefensible. And that is something I will never do. If at times that means being unpopular on Twitter, I will bear it. If at times it means Tony Blair’s spin doctor mocking my accent, so be it. And if at times it means Labour Members of Parliament attempting to silence me because I do not conform to what their idea of an ethnic minority woman should stand for, I will stomach it.

Because as Conservatives we do not measure the depth of our compassion in 280 characters on Twitter but in the actions we take and the choices we make. This Conservative government will continue to stand up for the hard-working, law-abiding majority who play by the rules and take action against a minority who do not, providing a safe haven to those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny. But I will not be complicit in an international criminal trade in asylum seekers, elbowing the most vulnerable to the side.

Reform the system. Prosecute the criminals. Protect the vulnerable. That is what a firm but fair asylum system should look like. That is what I intend to deliver. As Conservatives, we will protect the most in need and put the rights of those who respect the rules above those who take our country for a ride. Because without firmness, there will be no fairness.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.


3 Responses

  1. And, of course, the Refugee Convention itself recognises the difficulty of entering a country legally to claim asylum so provides exemption from prosecution for entering illegally (Article 31). Is Ms Patel aware of that? (Thanks to Colin’s “Refugee Law in the UK” guide for pin-pointing this!)