Despite the fact that Suella Braverman was warned by government lawyers in 2022 that inflammatory immigration rhetoric risked inspiring a far-right terror attack, her statement to the House of Commons yesterday showed a scant disregard for any such concerns.
Her statement announcing ‘The Illegal Migration Bill’ was full of dangerous rhetoric, including lies, exaggerations, and contradictions. It should have been clear to anyone watching this disgusting spectacle that she had one aim, and one aim only, and that was to increase hatred towards vulnerable and desperate people seeking sanctuary. It is a strategy used by many people in power throughout history. It ensures that while people are looking down they do not examine too closely the vast and real injustices that are taking place under their noses.
Against the backdrop of supportive baying from her Tory friends, she announced that anyone arriving in a small boat would be detained and swiftly removed. She didn’t say where they would be sent, only that the bar for appeal would be incredibly high and that any claims would be heard remotely.
She then used the usual scare tactics around refugees and asylum seekers by grossly overstating the ‘risks’ at present. “There were,” she said, “100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection”. The word ‘illegal’ which is increasingly in use and is part of the title of this bill misrepresents the truth. It is not illegal to claim asylum in the UK after crossing the English Channel.
This is an outrageous misrepresentation of the facts. For a start, there is no evidence that all refugees want to hotfoot it over to the UK, even if we opened our borders. The UK is not even included In a ranking of the top 25 refugee hosting countries as of 2022. Number 1 was Turkey who had taken in 3.5 million, closely followed by Germany and Pakistan with 2.2 million and 1.5 million respectively.
As of 2022, the United Nations Human Commission on Refugees, (UNHCR), said there were 231,597 refugees in the UK, including 140,000 Ukrainians and 60,000 from Hong Kong. Of course, these groups did not have to face a treacherous journey by small boat to find sanctuary here. They had routes under resettlement programmes not available to citizens from other countries such as Iran, Iraq and Somalia for example. Meanwhile, there are 127, 421 pending asylum cases and 5,483 stateless persons in the UK.
Suella Braverman talked a lot about the feelings of the British people. “We are,” she said, “decent and caring”, but “enough is enough”. The implication is, of course, that we are being overrun, our schools and hospitals are at breaking point. We can only hope that the Labour opposition will point out that if our public services are at breaking point, it is not the fault of the relatively small number of people seeking asylum, but the outcome of 13 years of austerity and gross under-funding.
The Refugee Council issued a statement on March 7th saying that they were “deeply concerned”. They point out that the proposals “will strip people fleeing war and persecution of their right to seek safety in the UK, punishing them for the act of seeking protection. This is not pushing the boundaries of international law, it is a blatant disregard of the Refugee Convention which expressly prohibits penalising people for crossing a border.”
Research has shown that dangerous rhetoric such as this creates a climate of fear in some areas for anyone who doesn’t present as white British. The attacks on hotels housing asylum seekers by the far right, emboldened by government rhetoric, is a clear example of how easily words can result in hatred and then violence. It has fallen to the trade union movement to challenge the government’s cynical exploitation of this issue. The statement signed by leaders of 13 main unions including Unison, pulled no punches: “The government is complicit in these attacks.”
Suella Braverman described her actions as “compassionate and proportionate.” They are neither. The real victims are the people seeking sanctuary who have been demonised and criminalised. At the same time, the hostile culture being created will have a long and lasting impact on everyone.