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The Home Office ministers behind Suella Braverman


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It hasn’t been a great week to be the Home Secretary or a Home Office official. Since Suella Braverman’s statement to the House of Commons on Monday, there has been one crisis after another. The Manston facility remains egregiously overcrowded. The camp is designed to hold no more than 1000 people, and despite over 1,000 people being removed from the camp over the last few days, overcrowding and adverse conditions are still an issue. The Albanian government has taken a dim view of Braverman’s critical comments and of the failure of the UK government to agree a repatriation agreement with them. A judicial review of the government’s operation of the immigration detention facilities is imminent, and legal action concerning access to legal support has also been launched.

For the asylum seekers detained at Manston Camp, as well as those recently released, the situation is significantly worse. Some will be traumatised after Western Jet Foil facility was firebombed by a far-right sympathiser. And the message in a bottle, written in block print and thrown over the fence on Wednesday reveals how desperate conditions have become for the detainees. Pregnant women aren’t receiving adequate care, officials “don’t even care” about a child with Down’s syndrome, and they also refuse to let detainees go outside. 

The new ministers recently appointed to the Home Office will have had particularly weighty red boxes to greet them in their first weeks. Lord Sharpe and Tom Tugendhat MP are continuing in post, Sharpe as an under-secretary of state and with Tugendhat as the Minister for Security, alongside continuing to attend Cabinet. They are joined at the Home Office by Robert Jenrick, Chris Philp and Sarah Dines from the House of Commons, with the cohort completed by Simon Murray, a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers recently elevated to the House of Lords.

There is some reassurance in the fact that few of these figures hail from Braverman’s far-right wing of the party. As Home Secretary, Braverman’s views will naturally have greater heft, but there is the prospect of them being diluted by ministers like Tugendhat.

It is the retention of Tugendhat in Security that may give some people the most comfort.  Generally seen as on the left of the party, Tugendhat is one of the few One Nation Tories to survive their culling after Brexit and Johnson. He is an MP more naturally ideologically sympathetic with liberal former Conservatives like Dominic Grieve QC and David Gauke. 

At the same time, there is not much reassurance to be found in Tugendhat’s recent voting record. On the question of immigration, he has recently voted against a provision that would explicitly prohibit refugees from being returned to a country where they would face serious threats to their life or freedom, and against a provision that would explicitly forbid immigration officers from using their powers in a way that could endanger life at sea.

All of these votes must be caveated by the fact that Tugendhat, as a minister, was bound to follow the government line – or resign. If we generously assume that his natural inclinations are less hostile to rights and immigrations, we can hope that Tugendhat has taken the view that he could do more good in government than he would as a lone voice on the backbenches. His pitch for party leader over the summer certainly showed a more pragmatic, less ideological figure. This, in part, explained why he was so quickly rejected by a party that has veered towards ideological absolutism.

Jenrick is perhaps the next most prominent member of this cohort, having been the Secretary of State for Housing under Boris Johnson, as well as serving in the Treasury and in Health. Sitting behind Braverman on Monday as she delivered her tirade against immigration, some commentators thought they could see a glimmer of discomfort in him, with articles almost amounting to him being described as her handler. When he did the media rounds the following day, he refused to condone Braverman’s language. Instead, he implied that in describing asylum seekers as “an invasion”, Braverman had demonised them, noting that it was “important for ministers to choose their language carefully”.

Prior to his ministerial career, Jenrick was chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, and he has commented that his marriage to the daughter of Holocaust survivors has had a huge effect on him. Perhaps the fact that he has taken on responsibility for both legal and illegal immigration will see worthwhile reforms made in both arenas, provided he is up to the magnitude of the task. In recent years Jenrick’s current role as been split into two, with one minister responsible for legal migration and another for illegal migration and asylum.

Yet, much like Tugendhat, when it comes down to backing up his values with his votes, his record leaves much to be desired. He has generally voted for strong enforcement of immigration rules and for a strict asylum system, including repeatedly voting against letting asylum seekers work if a decision on their case has not been made within six months. 

In contrast, Chris Philp and Sarah Dines seem unlikely to take anything other than a hard-line approach to immigration. Both have, consistently with their colleagues and with the Conservative cohort en masse, voted against meaningful immigration reform. They have generally favoured more punitive measures.

Philp was the parliamentary undersecretary of state for illegal immigration from 2019 to 2021. During this time, the number of people in immigration detention fell to a record low (albeit primarily due to the Covid-19 lockdowns). His period in office overlapped with the government’s attempts to use charter flights to deport Jamaican nationals. These attempts were frequently frustrated by lawyers arguing that the deportees had almost no connection to Jamaica.

Doing the media rounds for the government, he condemned activist lawyers for filing “last-minute claims [that] waste the time of judges and the courts”. This morning, Philp once more resorted to tired tropes, claiming that people arriving here illegally have “a bit of cheek” to complain about living conditions in the camps. It is also concerning that he spluttered on LBC today, unable to identify a route that an asylum seeker could use to claim asylum in the UK.

In much the same vein, Dines has been relatively vocal in her support for the government’s immigration reforms this year. She strongly supported the reforms in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which sought to distinguish between refugees who entered the country via regular or irregular means. On her constituency website, Dines published a statement reassuring her constituents that the “proposals…fully comply with the UK’s global obligation”. Most international law experts and institutions were sceptical that discriminating between refugees on the basis of how they arrived was consistent with international law. Dines went on to support the government’s current stance on the relocation of refugees who enter from safe third countries, claiming that the fact they had not travelled from a country where faced “imminent peril” validated the stance. 

Those trusting that more moderate voices may have been put in place to counter Braverman’s extremism, are likely to find their hopes dashed. Even Simon Murray, who was ennobled by Liz Truss in order to take on his role at the Home Office, is unlikely to lead to a more sympathetic stance on refugees. Arguably Murray’s original appointment might have been to cover borders and Brexit policy changes. Without any new legislation before parliament on the subject, it is unclear what impact Murray will have moving forward).

Murray was a public law barrister at 39 Essex Chambers, but seemingly has a dim view on how the European Court of Human Rights has developed immigration law in order to protect the rights of refugees. In an article for Policy Exchange, the right-wing think tank, Murray, writing with Professor John Finnis, argued that the European Court of Human Right’s jurisprudence “incoherently privileges preventing risks to non-citizens over risks to citizens”. Murray has written a number of other articles on this and similar subjects, and was instructed by the government in the Rwanda litigation earlier this year.

Ultimately, none of the junior ministers come close to matching Braverman’s dangerously misguided views on immigration and asylum, none, including Tom Tugendhat, have shown a willingness to go into the trenches in support of asylum and the UK’s international obligations. For those hoping to see asylum standards maintained, it may be the courts that once more come to the rescue. Detention Action have filed a judicial review claim against the Home Office’s operation of Manston on Thursday afternoon.  And BID Detention have begun a legal challenge over the failure to give asylum seekers at Manston access to lawyers.

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Nicholas Reed Langen

Nicholas Reed Langen is a writer and commentator on the law and human rights. He is a Re:Constitution Fellow (2021/22) and the editor of the LSE Public Policy Review.