Suella Braverman criticised by Labour over ‘deeply divisive’ migration speech – UK politics live

Braverman claims illegal migration poses ‘existential challenge for political and cultural institutions of west’

Braverman started her speech by claiming uncontrolled and illegal migration poses an “existential challenge” to the institutions of the west.

She said:

I’m here in America to talk about a critical and shared global challenge: uncontrolled and illegal migration.

It is an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the west.

To defend this point, she cited what happened in Lampedusa recently.

To understand the future, cast your mind back a couple of weeks, and a few thousand miles south-east of here, to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, population then 6,000.

Lampedusa, where in a 24-hour period beginning on 12 September, over 120 hundred boats, carrying more than 5,000 illegal migrants, made the hundred-mile crossing from Tunisia, in Africa, to Italy.

Within 48 hours illegal arrivals outnumbered the local population and a state of emergency had been declared. By 20 September, at least 11,000 had landed, with migrants sleeping in the street, stealing food, and clashing with police.

And she implied that whole countries were at risk of being overwhelmed.

Illegal migration to the US has in recent years gone from just under 2 million in 2021 to more than 2.8 million this year.

Illegal migration is not merely an event-driven, or cyclical problem.

It is a permanent and structural challenge for the developed nations in general, and the west in particular …

As the American economist Michael Clemens has found: ‘Emigration from a country tends to rise until it reaches a level of income of about $10,000 per person, before declining.’

World Bank data show that more than 3 billion people live in countries where the average income is below this threshold. The potential for migration to increase yet further is truly colossal.

The raw numbers show how demand for migration, legal or otherwise, is likely to surge in the coming years.

So too does personal testimony.

A 2021 Gallup poll found that 16% of adults worldwide – around 900 million people – would like permanently to leave their own country.

And those numbers are not evenly distributed around the world.

Thirty-seven per cent of people living in sub-Saharan Africa – some 481 million people – and 27% of those living in the Middle East and north Africa – around 156 million – say they’d like to migrate.

The ease with which some of them might reach Europe poses a unique and deepening challenge.

The fact is that our countries are exceptionally attractive.

Four per cent of those polled by Gallup – approximately 40 million people – named Britain as their preferred destination.

Updated at 12.17 EDT

Key events

Yvette Cooper criticises Braverman for scapegoating LGBT people in ‘deeply divisive’ speech

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has issued a statement about Suella Braverman’s speech on X (Twitter) which is stronger than the statement about is she issued overnight, before we had seen the text. (See 10.13am.) She says it was “deeply divisive” and unworthy of Braverman’s office.

Suella Braverman has so lost grip of Tory asylum chaos, she is targeting & scapegoating LGBT people. Deeply divisive, damaging political game playing – unworthy of her office. Instead of blaming people persecuted in places like Uganda for who they love, she shd sort chaos at home

Suella Braverman has so lost grip of Tory asylum chaos, she is targeting & scapegoating LGBT people. Deeply divisive, damaging political game playing – unworthy of her office. Instead of blaming people persecuted in places like Uganda for who they love, she shd sort chaos at home

— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) September 26, 2023

Amnesty International says Braverman’s attack on UN refugee convention motivated by ‘cynicism and xenophobia’

Charities that work with migrants have strongly condemned Suella Braverman for her speech calling for an overhaul of the UN refugee convention.

Amnesty International UK said the speech was xenophobic. This is from Sacha Deshmukh, the charity’s chief executive.

The refugee convention is a cornerstone of the international legal system and we need to call out this assault on the convention for what it is: a display of cynicism and xenophobia.

The refugee convention is just as relevant today as it was when it was created, and verbal assaults from the home secretary don’t alter the harsh realities that cause people from countries such as Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran to flee from conflict and persecution.

What urgently needs to be addressed on the world stage is the glaring inequality of countries sharing responsibility for refugees, a matter in which the UK is severely lagging.

Halima Begum, CEO of ActionAid, criticised Braverman’s suggestion that she wanted to limit opportunities for women to claim asylum. (See 4.03pm.) She said:

We know from our work across the world that for many women and girls, seeking asylum is the only lifeline left when fleeing persecution. Denying this fundamental right is not just a policy choice; it’s a direct affront to gender equality and human rights. Upholding the humanitarian duty to provide refuge and safety to women in need is not just an option; it’s an imperative.

And Josie Naughton, CEO of Choose Love, which funds refugee charities, said Braverman was the person out of touch.

It is the home secretary, not the global refugee convention, that is out of touch with the modern age.

In a world marred by conflicts and displacement, more and more people are fleeing war zones and persecution in search of safety. On top of natural disasters, and rising climate concern, we all know that the number of people being displaced will only increase globally.

Updated at 12.19 EDT

A reader asks:

Is Braverman actually on any official government business? Is she meeting US government officials or UN ambassadors? If not on official business has this visit been conducted at her own or our (taypayers) expense?

She is on official business. Rosa Prince has a good summary in today’s London Playbook. She says:

Braverman will later meet members of US President Joe Biden’s administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland, for talks on migration and national security. Following her call for social media firms to do more to tackle online child abuse, the home secretary will also visit the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And she’ll see work to tackle America’s epidemic of opioid abuse.

The Home Office posted this about Braverman’s visit on Twitter yesterday.

Q: Would you back leaving the European convention on human rights? And do you think the PM will be able to meet his “stop the boats” pledge?

Braverman says she is trying to build a consensus. The PM has said ultimately he will do whatever is necessary to stop the boats. That is her position too, she says.

On the PM’s pledge, she says they have made progress this year. The Illegal Migration Act has been passed. Many people said that would not happen, she says. She says she is confident about winning the supreme court case. If the government wins, it will operationalise flights to remove people as soon as possible.

And that’s the end of the Q&A.

Q: You have talked about your father, coming here without friends. Do you feel that is the case for illegal migrants coming here now? And what do you say to people who say this speech is about your leadership ambitions?

Braverman says, if the questioner is saying that she should side with illegal migrants because her parents were migrants, she does not accept that at all. She should not be excluded from the conversation because of her background. Her job as home secretary is to tell people the truth.

She says she is incredibly honoured to be speaking at the AEI thinktank. Leading this conversation is part of her day job as home secretary, she says

Updated at 12.05 EDT

Q: As the daughter of immigrants, how does that shape your thinking? And how do immigrant communities in the UK feel about immigrants?

Braverman says her father came to the UK aged 18 or 19, after being kicked out of Kenya. He had a British passport, which he saw as a symbol of hope. And her mother was recruited from Mauritius at the age of 18 to work in the NHS. Both her parents signed up to British values, and were very proud of the country. They came here lawfully, and played by the rules. Braverman says this has shaped her views. She thinks people are angry about illegal migration because they feel that is unfair.

Updated at 12.05 EDT

Braverman is now taking questions.

Q: Do you think there is a multilateral way of making refugee policy?

Braverman says she thinks there should be an international approach. But that does not mean she does not want the nation state to have a say.

Q: So what is the right definition of refugee?

Braverman says the definition has expanded beyond what is reasonable and sustainable. Economic migrants are falling under the umbrella of refugee, she says.

In case law, and in the courts, economic migrants are getting included under asylum law.

For example, anyone coming from France should not count as a refugee (because it is a safe country). But the law currently does say these people can count as refugees.

Braverman ended her speech by calling for an international debate on reform of asylum laws.

I have in recent weeks been meeting with fellow interior ministers in Europe. I will continue doing so in the coming months and hope to bring together partners to a forum where we can begin discussing some of the matters I’ve touched on today.

Is the refugee convention in need of reform?

What would a revised global asylum framework look like?

How can we better balance national rights and human rights, so that the latter do not undermine national sovereignty?

Could the ECHR [European convention on human rights] be more transparent and accountable in how it interprets human rights, and give greater power to nation states to make arguments and present evidence?

What are the appropriate criteria for being labelled a refugee these days?

How can we stop human rights laws being gamed by smugglers?

Are we delivering safe and legal routes in an efficient and effective manner?

And while we may have different views as to the solutions, I hope we can at least agree on one thing: that we are living in a new world bound by outdated legal models.

It’s time we acknowledge it.

Updated at 12.07 EDT

Braverman claims many countries now back UK government’s Rwanda policy for migrants

Braverman claimed many countries, either publicly or privately, support the UK government’s Rwanda policy for migrants (sending them to a safe third country if they arrive “illegally”). She said:

While our political opponents, NGOs, and others dismissed the partnership as an immoral gimmick when it was first announced, it is striking how many countries – run by governments of varying political hues – have now expressed in public, and in private conversations, their support for this model. Many are now pursuing variations of their own.

Updated at 12.08 EDT

Braverman claims politicians reluctant to reform refugee convention for fear of being called racist

Braverman claimed there were two reasons why the UN refugee convention had not been renegotiated.

The first is simply that it is very hard to renegotiate these instruments. If you think getting 27 EU member states to agree is difficult, try getting agreement at the UN.

The second is much more cynical. The fear of being branded a racist or illiberal.

Any attempt to reform the refugee convention will see you smeared as anti-refugee.

Updated at 12.09 EDT

Braverman on why she thinks way UN refugee convention currently operating is ‘absurd and unsustainable’

After setting out her four reasons why uncontrolled or illegal immigration was unacceptable, Braverman turned to the UN refugee convention, arguing that it now offered protection to almost 800 million people.

She said it was now protecting people who should not be thought of as refugees.

Article 1 of the convention defines that the term “refugee” as applying to those who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” cannot safely reside in the country of their nationality.

Elsewhere the convention speaks of “life or freedom” being threatened.

I think most members of the public would recognise those fleeing a real risk of death, torture, oppression or violence, as being in need of protection.

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”.

And there has been a similar shift away from a “well-founded fear” toward 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.

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.

Article 31 of the refugee convention makes clear that it is intended to apply to individuals “coming directly from a territory where their life was threatened”.

It also states that where people are crossing borders without permission, they should “present themselves without delay to the authorities” and must show “good cause” for any illegal entry.

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. But NGOs and others, including the UN Refugee Agency, contest this.

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.

Nobody entering the UK by boat from France is fleeing imminent peril.

None of them have “good cause” for illegal entry.

The vast majority have passed through multiple other safe countries, and in some instances have resided in safe countries for several years.

There is a strong argument that they should cease to be treated as refugees during their onward movement.

Updated at 12.10 EDT

And Braverman said the fourth argument against uncontrolled and illegal immigration was the democratic one.

Opinion polls and successive national votes could not be clearer: people the world over want their governments to control their borders …

Dismissing as idiots or bigots those members of the public who express legitimate concerns, is not merely unfair, it is dangerous.

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