James Tapsfield, Daily Mail, September 26, 2023
Suella Braverman warned uncontrolled immigration is an ‘existential’ threat to the West today as she attacked ‘absurd’ international refugee rules.
In a bold speech in Washington DC – being seen as a pitch to be the next Tory leader – the Home Secretary pointed to huge inflows being seen across Europe and the US.
Highlighting the Channel boats crisis, she warned that unless governments found a way of controlling their borders they would ‘not endure’.
She also delivered a stinging rebuke to those who dismiss people alarmed about immigration as ‘idiots or bigots’, arguing that the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism was evident from the streets of Paris, Brussels and Leicester. She insisted migrants could no longer be allowed to come to the UK and ‘live parallel lives’ rather than integrating.
The intervention came as Ms Braverman called for an overhaul of the UN Refugee Convention to help end the Channel crisis – and took another swipe at the European Convention on Human Rights.
She branded the system ‘unsustainable’, complaining that it creates ‘huge incentives for illegal migration’.
Insisting being trafficked as a sex slave is completely different from paying a gang to smuggle you across the Channel, Ms Braverman raised the prospect of rewriting the UN’s 1951 treaty to raise the threshold for asylum claims.
Taking aim at advocates of multiculturalism, the Home Secretary said she supported immigration, having been the child of immigrants herself, but claimed that uncontrolled migration risked a threat to nationhood and national security due to a lack of integration.
She said migration had been ‘too much, too quick’ to the UK in the past 25 years, with ‘too little thought given to integration and the impact on social cohesion’.
‘Uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration, and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination for Europe over the last few decades,’ she said.
‘Multiculturalism makes no demands of the incomer to integrate. It has failed because it allowed people to come to our society and live parallel lives in it. They could be in the society but not of the society.
‘And in extreme cases they could pursue lives aimed at undermining the stability and threatening the security of society.
‘We are living with the consequence of that failure today. You can see it play out on the streets of cities all over Europe. From Malmo, to Paris, Brussels, to Leicester.’
Mr Braverman added: ‘If cultural change is too rapid and too big, then what was already there is diluted — eventually it will disappear.’
Pressed on how her views square with her background as the child of migrants from Mauritius and Kenya, the Home Secretary said: ‘What you’re suggesting is because I’m the child of immigrants, I have to adopt a position which is pro-migration and pro the status quo, and I totally and fundamentally refute that.
‘I think that is totally at odds with the challenge that we are facing today, unprecedented levels of people coming into our country illegally with no right to be here. They are gaming our system, pretending to be refugees, pretending to be fleeing persecution to come to the country illegitimately.
‘I think that cannot be how we conduct this conversation. We need to be honest with the British people and we need to be honest about the challenges and the solutions. Just because I have an immigrant background does not exclude me from this conversation.
‘My job as Home Secretary is to be honest with the British people to tell them that the system as it currently stands internationally is not working. We need to start working towards a solution that is sustainable and fair.’
Ms Braverman pointed out that would-be refugees once had to show they were facing ‘persecution’ but now they must only prove ‘discrimination’.
She suggested the UN treaty is ‘an incredible achievement of its age’, but highlighted its role in the crisis that has seen nearly 110,000 migrants cross the Channel on dinghies to reach Britain since 2018.
‘More than 70 years on, we now live in a completely different time,’ she will say.
‘According to analysis by Nick Timothy and Karl Williams for the Centre for Policy Studies, it now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people.
‘It is therefore incumbent upon politicians and thought leaders to ask whether the Refugee Convention, and the way it has come to be interpreted through our courts, is fit for our modern age. Or whether it is in need of reform.’
Ms Braverman – who has been accompanied by a TV crew on her trip to the US – said in her speech: ‘Nobody entering the UK by boat from France is fleeing imminent peril.
‘The vast majority have passed through multiple safe countries, and in some instances have resided in safe countries for several years. In this sense, there is an argument that they should cease to be treated as refugees when considering the legitimacy of their onward movement.’
Ms Braverman admitted the European and UN accords on refugee rights could be a struggle to update due to the unwieldy task of getting member states to agree on changes.
But she said there was also a ‘more cynical’ reason for not broaching reforms, arguing there was a ‘fear of being branded a racist or illiberal’.
‘The status quo, where people are able to travel through multiple safe countries, and even reside in safe countries for years, while they pick their preferred destination to claim asylum, is absurd and unsustainable,’ she will say.
Mrs Braverman said the West had ‘created a system of almost infinite supply, incentivising millions of people to try their luck, knowing full well that we have no capacity to meet more than a fraction of demand’.
She also launched a salvo at immigration lawyers and judges.
Asked after the speech whether the current interpretation of the ECHR was ‘compatible’ with the need to protect and control UK borders, Ms Braverman said: ‘My personal views on the ECHR have been chronicled and they’re very clear, but what I think is a legitimate question for all of us to be asking in the UK is whether its operation and its interpretation by the courts is compatible with our pressing need to control our borders and national sovereignty.’
She went on: ‘We are wanting to work within those frameworks and we are confident that we can achieve that, but I do think legitimate questions need to be asked about the somewhat ill-fitting nature of how these … outdated international models are sitting with the global migration crisis of the 21st century.’
The Government’s Illegal Migration Act, passed by Parliament earlier this year, bars ‘irregular’ migrants from claiming asylum.
However, its powers have yet to be brought into force and it remains unclear whether it will make it easier to remove migrants whose claims are denied.
Mrs Braverman’s criticisms of the UN treaty has been disputed by many immigration lawyers and campaigners, who point to Britain’s leading role in drawing it up after the horrors of the Second World War.
Ms Braverman pointed out that the convention defines refugees as those with a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.
‘However, as case law has developed, what we have seen in practice is an interpretive shift away from persecution, in favour of something more akin to a definition of discrimination,’ she will say.
‘And a similar shift away from a ‘well-founded fear’ towards a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible fear’.
‘The practical consequence of which has been to expand the number of those who may qualify for asylum, and to lower the threshold for doing so.’
She said: ‘Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman.
‘Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary.
‘But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.
Mrs Braverman also highlighted ‘asylum shopping’ which sees migrants move through numerous safe countries to reach their target country.
The convention ‘makes clear’ that it is intended to apply to individuals ‘coming directly from a territory where their life was threatened’, she said, and that they must show ‘good cause’ for entering a country illegally in order to claim asylum.
‘The UK along with many others, including America, interpret this to mean that people should seek refuge and claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach,’ she will add. ‘But NGOs and others, including the UN Refugee Agency, contest this.
‘Seeking asylum and seeking better economic prospects are not the same thing.
‘Seeking refuge in the first safe country you reach or shopping around for your preferred destination are not the same thing. Being trafficked – ie, transported against your will, perhaps to be sold into sex slavery – and being smuggled – ie, asking someone to sneak you into a country – are not the same thing.
‘The extent to which the global asylum framework enables the merging of these categories creates huge incentives for illegal migration. This legal framework is rooted in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.’
Ms Braverman noted that when the convention was signed it conferred protection on two million Europeans, but a recent analysis by the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank concluded it now ‘confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780million people’.
Any reform of the convention will be a drawn-out process and would need to secure widespread international support.
A Centre for Policy Studies report, published last year and co-authored by former Theresa May aide Nick Timothy, recommended the UK should ‘work with international partners on updating the antiquated 1951 Refugee Convention’.
But Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the convention’s principles were ‘just as important today as they have ever been’.
‘Abandoning them is not an option: We must stand firm in our commitment to all people fleeing persecution and the international frameworks that were created to protect them,’ he said.
Policing minister Chris Philp supported Ms Braverman’s view this morning, telling Times Radio the convention ‘needs to be looked at on an international basis’.
He said the government had ‘seen people shopping around between different countries to choose where to claim asylum’.
‘That’s not how the UN Refugee Convention was originally designed, it’s not designed to allow people to circulate in Europe for a number of years before deciding where to claim asylum and making dangerous and illegal journeys doing so,’ he said.
Mr Philp said some people are falsely claiming to be persecuted, saying that ‘some people claim to be gay when they’re not’.
‘When I was immigration minister I came across a number of cases when people had claimed to be gay, produced photographs of them and a sort of same-sex partner and it turned out on further investigation it was a sibling, it wasn’t a same-sex partner at all,’ he added.