The speech made by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, on 4 October 2020.
Good afternoon everyone.
As someone who is first and foremost a grassroots Conservative Party member, I am sorry that we are not together in Birmingham this week.
As we all know, the world has changed drastically since we last met.
Covid is the most challenging global health crisis in many of our lifetimes.
It has tested us as a country.
But it has also brought us together.
Sometimes in tragedy – and I know you will all join me in mourning every person we have lost – but also in determination.
The fight against this disease is by no means over.
But as our Prime Minister has said, if we stick together and all play our part, there will be better days ahead.
Because it is at times like this that we are forced to reflect on what is most important to us all.
And we find the answer in the things that bring us together.
Our sense of fair play.
Which means on the one hand supporting the hardworking majority who play by the rules.
And on the other hand, taking tough action against a minority who do not.
Delivering a firmer and a fairer system for all.
LAW AND ORDER
And that is the approach I take when it comes to Law and Order.
To uphold the rights of the law-abiding majority, not the criminal minority.
To stand proudly alongside the brave men and women of our police and security services.
To remain driven by the People’s Priorities – and to deliver on them.
Just over a year since Boris Johnson became our Prime Minister, the thugs, the criminals and the terrorists, are in no doubt of our determination.
We have already recruited over four thousand three hundred additional police officers.
That means more bobbies on the beat keeping our families, our communities and our country safe.
In June we saw the United Kingdom’s biggest ever law enforcement raid, led by the National Crime Agency.
Demonstrating that under this Government serious and organised criminals will not get away with their crimes.
And while some on the left have called for us to defund the police.
We have provided them with the biggest funding increase in a decade.
We have given them an additional 25 million pounds to roll up county lines drugs gangs.
With this funding alone the police have shut down over 300 drug lines.
They’ve made over 2,600 arrests.
Protected vulnerable children.
We are going after the ringleaders, while protecting those being exploited.
We are supporting our outstanding counter terrorism police and intelligence agencies.
We are passing the toughest terrorism sentencing legislation in decades.
So that convicted terrorists spend more time behind bars.
Because as Conservatives we will always put your rights above those of criminals and terrorists.
That is firm.
That is fair.
This year we have asked our police service to do more than ever before.
And they have done so with relentless courage, commitment and professionalism.
As well as policing this deadly disease, we have seen our police on drug raids, breaking up illegal raves, and dealing with violent and abusive protestors.
This government will always defend the right to protest.
That right is a fundamental pillar of our democracy.
But the hooliganism and thuggery we have seen is not.
It is indefensible.
There is no excuse for pelting flares at brave police officers.
There is no excuse for throwing bikes at police horses.
There is no excuse for disrespecting the Cenotaph or vandalising the statue of Sir Winston Churchill.
One of the greatest protectors of our freedoms who has ever lived.
It is not acceptable for mobs to tear down statues and cause criminal damage across our streets.
And it is not acceptable for thugs to assault our police officers, just for doing their job.
As our police walk the line of duty, I want every one of them to know, I have their back.
They have the backing of our Party, our Government and our Prime Minister.
We work closely, day in, day out with Chief Constables, policing bodies and the Police Federation to ensure that they have the tools, support and the powers they need.
Training and equipping eight thousand more officers with Tasers.
Empowering them to stop and challenge those who have been known to carry knives.
Whenever, I have the privilege of accompanying officers on patrol, across the country, I feel proud to see them in action.
Proud – to see our brave officers support our communities.
Proud – to watch them protect us on the streets.
Proud – to witness their selflessness as they walk the beat.
This sacrifice is epitomised by names we know for the saddest of reasons.
PC Andrew Harper, was a hero.
Killed after responding to a call for help.
And in recent days we have seen another brave officer killed in the line of duty.
Custody sergeant Matt Ratana.
In his pursuit to protect others he made the ultimate sacrifice.
These two officers represent the very best of us.
They will never be forgotten.
It is in the memory of Andrew and Matt and others like them that we will continue to act to protect those on the frontline.
And we have already made progress.
By introducing the Police Covenant to recognise the sacrifices, bravery and commitment of serving and former officers.
I will enshrine their physical protection, health, and support for their families into law.
We will double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers.
And the Justice Secretary and I will continue working with Lissie Harper, PC Andrew Harper’s widow, to ensure anyone who kills an emergency worker gets the sentence they deserve.
Because, to say that the punishment should fit the crime isn’t just a Conservative belief.
It is what the people of our Country expect.
That is firm.
That is fair.
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 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 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.
OUR BROKEN ASYLUM SYSTEM
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 has always 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 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 forty thousand 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 in the UK to work and to contribute to our country.
While they were here, the conflict in Syria deteriorated.
Making it unsafe 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 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 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.
FIXING THE SYSTEM
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 will 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 outstanding 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 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 those 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.
As for those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do gooders, the leftie lawyers, the Labour Party – they are defending the indefensible.
And that is something I will never do.
If at times it 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 their idea of what an ethnic minority woman should stand for. I will stomach it.
Because as Conservatives, we do not measure the depth of our compassion in two hundred and eighty characters on Twitter, but in the actions we take and the choices we make.
This Conservative Government will continue to stand up for the hardworking, law-abiding majority who play by the rules.
And take action against the 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, and that is what I intend to deliver.
As Conservatives, we will protect those 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.