BlogImage reads "The Consultation is a Con"

A wholesale attack on the right to seek safety in the UK

Today we’ve submitted our evidence to the consultation on Priti Patel’s New Plan for Immigration.

Based on over thirty years’ experience providing free immigration advice in the North West, we believe the ideas in the plan are rehashed, recycled and in some cases already proven to fail. We made clear in our evidence that Priti’s plan will not meet the government’s stated aims, it will put more people at risk (particularly people vulnerable to exploitation) and it threatens the cohesiveness of our communities.

And the consultation has been a con: asking people to rubber stamp how the plan is implemented, rather than giving opportunity to critique the proposals within it. So, we’ve joined with 200 other organisations to call it out as a sham. A further 454 immigration academics have lambasted the plan itself as based purely on assertions, not evidence.

What’s so frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all agree that elements of our asylum system are broken. And the good news (which the plan seems to purposefully ignore) is that there are ready made solutions to fix it. Even better, many of those solutions do not require primary legislation to implement, just political will and action. Unfortunately, the plan reads as if there are no lessons to learn from Brexit immigration changes, or recommendations to implement from the Windrush scandal, or value to harness from community connectedness during Covid-19.

And this gets to the heart of the problem – Priti Patel is not interested in fixing the asylum system for people in the UK. Her attention is on borders, on future, fictitious people who may (or may not) come to the UK at an unspecified point in the future seeking sanctuary. Wave machines, Channel Threat Commanders, holding pens for vulnerable people on remote islands.

In contrast, most people in the UK are far more interested in what is happening within their communities: how we live alongside each other, how we overcome common problems, including the devastating financial economic and social impact of the pandemic, and how we work through issues together.

Doing things differently

Evidence of how local areas are ‘doing things differently’ would really help re-frame the government’s plan. Here is wisdom from Marvin Rees in Bristol – the UK’s first directly elected black mayor:

The Government’s proposals seek to make a clear distinction between ‘worthy’ refugees who arrive via official resettlement routes, and ‘unworthy’ asylum seekers who ask for protection from here in the UK. But as all place-based leaders like me know, the complexity of people’s lives and situations can never be reduced to such a clear binary. And simply declaring one group of people as unworthy of support does little to improve the situation on the ground for them or for the communities they are part of.

Closer to home, in Greater Manchester, council leaders have resisted Hostile Environment policies that land so badly for our communities and individuals within them.

To fully prevent the need to rough sleep we need to bring an end to the hostile environment. It requires a cross departmental review of the No Recourse regime that goes beyond knee-jerk policy decisions […] This only serves to create pressure and cost elsewhere in the system. We as Local Authorities along with our voluntary sector colleagues feel that pressure. The cost to individuals is perhaps immeasurable but certainly significant.

What might seem to make sense to those leading things in Westminster and Whitehall, can play out very differently faced with the reality of running services in Bury, Bolton or Rochdale. It’s perhaps not surprising then that Boris Johnson saw the merit of lifting people out of undocumented status with talk of an amnesty when he was a city-leader, in London.

Using our voices

Tellingly, Priti Patel’s plan is also silent on the views of another group: people with lived experience of the asylum system. The consultation is available only in English and Welsh, it has run for just six weeks over a period that included Easter, Ramadan, local election and lockdown restrictions, it’s an online portal and ends just five days before the Queen’s Speech (where many of the proposals are expected to feature). Not one question in the consultation asks people about their personal experiences of fleeing persecution or seeking safety in the UK.

What Priti’s plan overlooks, is that many people who seek safety in the UK go on to become British citizens. Surely, it makes sense to ask people with this valuable experience how the process could be improved? And surely, that benefits all of us. None of us is better off if our future neighbours, the future parents in our children’s schools, or our future workmates have experienced destitution, detention and desperation in the UK. We’re better than that. And as Priti’s plan becomes a Bill and passes through parliament, we’ll need to keep using our voices, raising up people with lived experience and connecting across communities so we expose the plan for the shallow attempt at politicking that it really is.