Home Secretary Priti Patel has told Sky News she is considering “all options” for overhauling the UK’s asylum system – including sending people abroad while their claims are processed.
Under her new immigration plans, Ms Patel has vowed to make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally after travelling through a safe country where they could have claimed asylum.
Targeting a crackdown on those who travel across the Channel, the home secretary said her proposals will include “how we remove people and return people to their countries they have travelled from”.
And she did not deny recent reports that asylum seekers could be sent abroad while having their claims processed – including to places like Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, although both those places have strongly rejected such suggestions.
“All the time people are being trafficked and smuggled through illegal routes, we as a government have a duty and a responsibility to consider all options and that is the purpose of our consultation,” Ms Patel said.
“So we will look at third-country removal and we will also do that alongside looking at bilateral agreements.
“This will be work this government is undertaking right now. As part of this consultation we will put all options on the table in terms of working with third countries.
“Countries like Denmark are already exploring options like this and we will continue to explore, bilaterally, options in terms of returning and removing people that have come to the UK illegally.”
Asked if her plans to return people back to the countries they have travelled from relied on new post-Brexit arrangements with EU countries, Ms Patel said: “We will have arrangements in place.
“That is what we’re doing right now in terms of bilateral negotiations to put arrangements in place.
“It’s important to remember, if you’re fleeing persecution, people can claim asylum in the first safe country.
“France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain – many people are travelling to the UK from these safe countries.
“So the principle of fleeing persecution under the refugee convention and seeking asylum is very much about, yes, going to a safe country.
“People are still shopping through safe countries and coming to the UK.”
Pressed on whether her plans rested on striking bilateral agreements with EU countries that are not yet in place, Ms Patel said: “EU countries also have a moral duty and a responsibility to be part of this solution.
“Today I’ll be at the G6 talking about this very issue and making the case for making reform of asylum and absolutely sticking to the principle of claiming asylum in the first safe country, because currently that is not taking place.”
“We all have a moral duty and responsibility to save lives and stop people smuggling and this is a collective endeavour where we must all step up.”
The home secretary’s plans have been billed as the “biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades”.
Under the proposals, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.
Ms Patel said she wanted to “create safe and legal routes” for those fleeing persecution, but that those who enter the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive legally.
Under the new plans, refugees who come to the UK through the government’s official resettlement programme will get indefinite leave to remain once they arrive.
Those who arrive illegally, but still manage to successfully claim asylum, will receive a new “temporary protection status” rather than an automatic right to settle.
People entering illegally will also have limited family reunion rights and reduced access to benefits.
For people who have their cases considered and refused, the Home Office said it would seek their rapid removal from the UK.
Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said Ms Patel should spend more time stopping British criminals and less seeking “clicks and likes”.
She posted on Twitter: “Hope as Priti Patel tours studios she is asked why she talks tough on foreign criminals, but has overseen highest numbers in UK ever.
“Also how come she’s not tough on British criminals committing rape & sex crimes against children. Conviction of both have dropped in her time.
“If only her actions affected more than headlines we might see crime falling and rapists locked away, instead she’s traded our safety for clicks and likes. I’d rather we protected more people from sex offenders personally.”