Tim Loughton: UK only gains from giving the vulnerable a route to asylum

Britain must claw back reputation damage from migration policy failures, says MP

The MP Tim Loughton told The National that the government gets unfair bad press over its immigration policies. Alamy
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As a former British children's minister, Tim Loughton took an interest in how the UK was seeking to assist the youngest and most vulnerable in Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp.

It is an aspect of British asylum policy that is little heralded, he believes, because it is overshadowed by his own Conservative government's failure to provide overarching mechanisms for refugees to apply for a safe and legal route to come and find a safe haven in the UK. For a grandee of the world's most successful democratic political party, this is both bad policy in its own terms and an unwanted black mark on the country's reputation.

"The politics of this is that we get quite a bad press unfairly," he told The National from his Westminster offices. "The government needs to fight back. It's always quoted at us that France has taken x number of refugees or Germany has taken x number of refugees [more than the UK].

"In the case of Germany, with the influx of Syrians, the vast majority of them were working age and in some cases, skilled men, and they had a shortage in their workforce. So it was entirely self interest.

"We've been taking directly from refugee camps the really vulnerable, particularly Syrians from Zaatari in Jordan, people who may not contribute to the UK economy but we can give them a safe haven. In the short term, at least they are higher dependency than the skilled people who come to the countries."

Zaatari camp in Jordan - in pictures

The example he cites is a one of the UK acting in the best traditions of offering shelter but Mr Loughton, who has been an MP since 1997, has recently been in the headlines for providing a devastating critique of the broad scope of the UK's asylum system, which he believes is something of an international own goal for the country.

From his perch on the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Loughton questioned Home Secretary Suella Braverman on how her department could grant an East African child fleeing war and persecution asylum in the UK while overseas. While Ms Braverman was able to say the UK had offered a safe haven to 390,000 people, she was forced to admit the application could only be submitted in the UK. The issue of routes into Britain has become hugely contentious for Conservatives such as Mr Loughton, who are challenging the hardline stance of their own party.

"Our reputation has been slightly tarnished, I think, recently by the way we haven't continuously had safe and legal routes," he told The National. "I've met lots of particularly kids, in refugee camps or while working with refugee organisations in the Middle East. They are genuinely in danger and they may be orphans with parents killed in war.

"I've met Syrian boys in that position, who might have an older brother or an uncle, who is legitimately in the UK but the scheme at the moment is largely based on joining parents. It does need to acknowledge there are relatives that should count."

UK coastguard responds to migrant emergency in English Channel - in pictures

After a year in which there have been three prime ministers and three home secretaries (Ms Braverman quit and was reappointed days later), Mr Loughton believes his party has ended up with the wrong takeaways from the 2016 Brexit mantra of taking back control over the country's borders. In doing so, and distracted by the politics, it has set impossible targets for controlling migration.

Spooked by the fact that numbers being trafficked across the English Channel — driven by migrants from Albania in particular — have already passed 44,000 this year, Ms Braverman and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak say there can be no action to create new asylum channels until the boat crisis ends. This sequencing, however, fails the test for those who believe the lack of routes is fuelling the numbers — not those from Albania — from countries in strife seeking to get to the UK.

"There's no lack of generosity among British people to open their homes but they get angry when they see people gaming the system," he observed. "So when you seen the Albanians coming across the Channel, you have the straw that broke the camel's back.

Migrants at immigration processing centre in Manston - in pictures

"They are undoubtedly economic migrants, they're most young men and a disproportionate number are now claiming they are victims of slave traders. The people who are disadvantaged most of all are those genuine asylum seekers who are bumped down the list as Albanians take up hotel spaces with knock-on effects."

A minister in the coalition that took power in 2015, Mr Loughton traces the UK's migration and asylum problems to the decision of former prime minister David Cameron to set a target of tens of thousands for the country's net migration. Mr Loughton believes more legitimate acceptance would assist the UK's efforts to deport and deter the unwanted, not least in seeing off challenges in the courts to proposals such as the Rwanda deportation arrangement that has failed to get off the ground.

He highlighted a recent surge in spending to support asylum seekers in the UK, taken from the overseas aid budget as a blow to the UK's overall goals to help the vulnerable in their home countries through its development policies. He said: "There is a triple whammy," outlining the shrinking economy, a cut from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP and a third blow with the money being spent in the UK, not on prevention of migration overseas.

Not only would Mr Loughton support functioning deterrence through a Rwanda-style scheme, but he would also seek to support France-based deportations of those who want to reach the UK. Close observers of UK politics may question the government's capability of overhauling the system, even if it embraced and passed the right reforms.

"I think there is greater confidence that we've got the adults back in charge who are able to introduce some degree of stability back in government," he said. "From a confidence perspective, this is a big issue. If you can't keep these boats out, then is the government really in control of the situation?"

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Updated: December 19, 2022, 8:09 AM
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