Minister Told to ‘Get a Grip’ on Asylum and Immigration

Minister Told to ‘Get a Grip’ on Asylum and Immigration
Britain's Housing, Communities, and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London, on March 17, 2020. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)
Patricia Devlin

Tory minister Robert Jenrick has faced fierce criticism from his own party’s backbenchers over immigration enforcement.

As opposition MPs lined up to denounce the Illegal Migration Bill on Tuesday, Conservative politicians also grilled the immigration minister on when government agencies were going to “get a grip” on rising illegal immigrant cases.

Jenrick was in the Commons just hours after the publication of the Home Office’s long-awaited economic impact assessment on the contentious legislation.

The bill, currently making its way through Parliament, aims to prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means.

The government also hopes the changes will ensure detained people are promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country.

The government’s impact report estimates that it will cost £169,000 to deport each immigrant from the UK to Rwanda—and that 37 percent of those wishing to enter the UK illegally would need to be deterred for the policy to break even.

Speaking in Westminster on Tuesday, Labour’s Sam Tarry called the legislation “an absolute dog’s breakfast,” adding it is “not properly costed.”

Addressing Jenrick over the government agencies’ response to immigration, Tory ex-minister Jackie Doyle-Price said: “Can I say to him … although of course the British public want us to stop the boats, the British public is also generous in spirit. What it actually really wants is to make sure that this country is not being taken advantage of.

“Really the responsibility to tackle that lies with the machinery of the Foreign Office, our criminal justice system, and our law enforcement agencies. If they can all get a grip, isn’t that going to be a better solution than sending people to Rwanda?”

‘Soft Touch’

Jenrick said the Rwanda scheme is “not the totality of our approach,” adding that the government is “investing significantly in law enforcement both at home and abroad.”

He defended the bill and its accompanying economic impact assessment, which he said showed that the “true cost of doing nothing” could amount to more than £11 billion a year by the end of 2026.

Jenrick hit back at criticism of immigration measures from the Tory backbenches, insisting that when the government makes promises, it means it is “going to deliver.”

Conservative MP William Wragg said: “Could he answer a very direct question, which is how long did it take on average to process an asylum seeker’s claim five years ago, and how long does it take today? And why?”

Jenrick responded: “The last time that he asked me a question he said that we wouldn’t be able to produce a barge to house asylum seekers—actually, days later we signed the agreement to do that and that will be coming forward.

“He knows that, when we say things, we mean them and that we are going to deliver.”

The minister claimed the “sheer number of people crossing every year” is responsible for the backlog in processing claims, adding that there is a similar picture across Europe.

He claimed immigration ministers on the continent are even “considering tents” for housing migrants, as well as “essentially leaving them to sleep on the streets”, adding: “We have to ensure that the UK is not perceived to be a soft touch and I will never allow that to happen.”

A group of people thought to be illegal immigrants are brought into Ramsgate, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel on Aug. 1, 2022. (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)
A group of people thought to be illegal immigrants are brought into Ramsgate, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel on Aug. 1, 2022. (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)

Over 11,000 Arrivals

Tory Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth received a similar reception in the Lords, where peers ripped apart the government’s impact assessment.

Described as having “more holes than Gruyere cheese,” peers claimed the report failed to consider other policy options and other economic factors, such as the cost of detaining people in limbo if the UK fails to secure removal deals with countries other than Rwanda.

Former Deputy First Minister of Wales and Liberal Democrat peer Lord German said: “It’s no wonder that we’ve had to wait so long for this impact assessment because it makes uncomfortable reading for the government. It tries to justify the unjustifiable by leaving out the costs of so many pieces of the project.

“It’s certainly not rigorous; ‘uncertainty’ is mentioned 24 times in the impact assessment.”

Labour frontbencher Lord Ponsonby castigated the government for the delay in the publication, meaning the Commons could not consider it in their scrutiny.

He added: “The impact assessment does not contain an explanation of the costs and benefits, it does not outline alternative policy options and was not published on the same day that the bill was introduced. If this house is to perform its critical function in scrutinising legislation, it is necessary for complete, comprehensive and timely information about the basis on which policy choices are made and the reasons why alternative options have been rejected.”

Murray said the impact assessment published “supports the need for the change.”

“It sets out the broad costs of implementing the bill, outlines potential savings and highlights examples of where policy and operations have delivered an impact on illegal migration in other countries,” he said.

He told peers the impact assessment “makes clear that inaction is simply not an option.”

“The volumes and costs associated with illegal migration have risen exponentially, driven by small boat arrivals,” Murray added.

“Unless we act decisively to stop the boats, the cost to the taxpayer and the damage to society will continue to grow.”

He noted that Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, a similar policy aimed at reducing illegal maritime arrivals, successfully reduced these crossings from around 18,000 in 2013 to nearly zero.

Murray told peers that 11,279 people have arrived in the UK by small boat from the start of this year to June 27.

Of those arriving, 13 percent are female and 12 percent claim to be unaccompanied children.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Patricia is an award winning journalist based in Ireland. She specializes in investigations and giving victims of crime, abuse, and corruption a voice.
Related Topics