UK's Priti Patel warns asylum system is collapsing

Home Secretary says broken immigration system is undermining Britain's ability to help those in genuine need of protection

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel delivers a speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester. EPA
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Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that the asylum system is close to collapse as she defended her plans to take a tougher line on illegal immigration.

She blamed “long-standing problems” for immigration issues facing the country.

Ms Patel made no apology for trying to increase security at the border and "exploring all possible options to save lives" by clamping down on people smugglers exploiting migrants trying to cross the English Channel in small boats.

“All states have a responsibility to control their borders," she said. "For where there is a door, there must be a doorkeeper."

She told the Conservative Party conference: “Britain’s asylum system might have worked 20 years ago, but not now.

“The system is collapsing under the pressures created by these parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smuggling gangs.”

The opposition Labour Party’s more lenient approach would not work, she said, adding “economic migrants” were undermining the UK’s “ability to support those in genuine need of protection”.

The Nationality and Borders Bill is making its way through Parliament, which aims to curb English Channel crossings and change how asylum claims are processed. Ms Patel said that new sea tactics are being used to “turn back the boats” but there have been questions about the legality of the technique.

On immigration, Ms Patel argued there was no need for migrants to travel to Britain from France because France is a safe country.

She said she was working to confront the issues before adding what is happening in the Channel with small boats seeking to reach the UK is “unsafe, unfair and unacceptable".

Ms Patel said the UK government is “going after” the criminals behind people smuggling.

“France is a safe country, one not riven by war or conflict. There is no reason why any asylum seeker should come to the United Kingdom directly from France,” she said.

“I make no apology for securing our borders and exploring all possible options to save lives by ending these horrific journeys.”

Since the start of the year, more than 17,000 migrants have succeeded in reaching the UK — double the figure for the whole of 2020.

Data shows that since the beginning of last year, more than 25,000 people have risked death crossing to the UK aboard dinghies, kayaks and other small boats.

But despite the sharp rise in the number of boats arriving on the south coast, asylum applications in the UK fell in 2020 to 29,456 — significantly lower than the 93,475 asylum applications made in France and the 121,955 made in Germany.

Separately, Ms Patel said an independent inquiry will be launched into the “systematic failures” which allowed Sarah Everard's killer to be employed as a police officer.

Ms Patel said the public needs answers to ensure “something like this can never happen again” after Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped and murdered the 33-year-old marketing executive.

She said: “The public have a right to know what systematic failures enabled his continued employment as a police officer. We need answers as to why this was allowed to happen.

“I can confirm today there will be an inquiry, to give the independent oversight needed, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

Updated: October 05, 2021, 2:09 PM