Nick Thomas-Symonds – 2021 Speech on the Government’s Plan for Immigration

The speech made by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 24 March 2021.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. She said in her statement that the asylum system is broken, and she talked about a persistent failure of the rules. They are stark admissions for a Conservative Home Secretary whose party has been in power for 11 years.

The truth is, we have seen Conservative failure across the board. The Home Secretary mentioned the Windrush generation, while this Government presides over a compensation scheme that their own figures show has helped only 338 people. Then there is the asylum processing system, which is appallingly slow. The share of applications that received an initial decision within six months fell from 87% in 2014 to just 20% in 2019. There is no point blaming others. This is the fault of Conservative Ministers and a failure of leadership at the Home Office, and there has not been the progress we need on the promised agreement with France on dealing with appalling criminal gangs and rises in the horrific crime of human trafficking.

Yes, the Government policy is defined by a lack of compassion and a lack of competence, and I am afraid that the plans outlined by the Government today look like they are going to continue in exactly the same vein. No wonder the plans outlined have been described as “inhumane” by the British Red Cross. They risk baking into the UK system the callousness, frankly, of this Government’s approach. No wonder, either, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concerns about the Government’s understanding of international law.

The Home Secretary spoke today about the importance of safe and legal routes, yet the resettlement scheme was suspended, and the Dubs scheme was shamefully closed down after accepting just 480 unaccompanied children rather than the 3,000 expected. [Interruption.] The Immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), continues to shout at me; he cannot hide from the Government’s record of the last 11 years. And the Government looked the other way last summer; rather than help children stuck in the burning refugee camp of Lesbos, they turned the other way.

At the same time, these changes risk making the situation even worse for victims of human trafficking, as it would be even harder to access help in the UK, helping criminal gangs escape justice. Ministers have abolished the Department for International Development, the very Department that helped address the forces that drive people from their homes in the first place—war, poverty and persecution.

Not only are Government plans lacking in compassion, but the Government do not even have the competence to explain how their plans would work. A central part of the measures briefed out by the Government relies on new international agreements, yet the Home Secretary could not mention one of those agreements that have been concluded this morning. Sources close to the Home Secretary have briefed out ridiculous, inhumane schemes such as processing people on Ascension Island, over 4,000 miles away, and wave machines in the English channel to drive back boats. When the Government recently briefed out plans for Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, they were dismissed within hours.

The proposals also show that the Government have not woken up to the urgent need to protect the UK against the pandemic and support our health and social care system to rebuild. We have heard the Prime Minister this week be dangerously complacent about a third wave of covid from Europe, and the threat of new variants continues to grow, yet none of the UK Government plans includes measures desperately required to protect the UK. We need world-leading border protections against covid, including a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, yet throughout this pandemic the Government have done too little, too late. The proposals do nothing to address the recruitment crisis in the health and social care system, where urgent changes are needed to help recruit the medical and social care staff to deal with covid and NHS waiting lists.

The reality is that the measures outlined today will do next to nothing to stop people making dangerous crossings, and they risk withdrawing support from desperate people. The Conservatives have undoubtedly broken the immigration system over the last 11 years, but the reality today is that they have absolutely no idea how to fix it.