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Tory MP Accuses Rishi Sunak Of “Organised Hypocrisy” By Stopping Asylum Seekers Working

Robert Buckland has called on the government to end the ban on allowing asylum seekers to work as they await a decision on their claim (Alamy)

4 min read

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland has urged the Prime Minister to scrap rules banning people who are waiting for an asylum claim to be processed from working legally in the UK.

While Buckland welcomed Rishi Sunak’s new plan to try and break the backlog of thousands of migrants awaiting an asylum decision, he believed preventing them from working was “organised hypocrisy”.

Studies from the Home Office and the independent Migration Advisory Committee have concluded that the right to work is not a “pull factor” in attracting people to the UK, but the government has repeatedly rejected calls to allow people going through the asylum process to work, despite a significant number of people waiting more than a year for a decision. 

Sunak said he would not look to change the rules in a speech to the Commons on Tuesday, and that he felt it was “frankly absurd” that people who have arrived in the UK illegally can get bank accounts which help them to live and work in Britain.

Buckland, who has long campaigned for asylum seekers to have the right to work, was scathing of Sunak's approach. He told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown that “anybody who's got a passing acquaintance with this issue” agrees it should be changed.

He believed the government was instead spending billions of pounds asking asylum seekers “to do nothing”.

“They could be making a big contribution, helping to pay their way, frankly, and without requiring rights that then affects the merits of their asylum application”, he said.

“And God knows we need people in shortage areas, and the reality is a lot of people are doing irregular work anyway.

“They've gone under the radar, very often we've lost track of who they are and they're doing irregular work on building sites and restaurants and bars, probably for well under the minimum wage.”

The asylum backlog is currently at around 143,000 people awaiting an initial decision on their application, and who are therefore unable to work.

Buckland said Denmark, a country whose immigration policies the government has praised for having implemented a similar policy to the UK’s Rwanda deportation plan, allows asylum seekers to work.

“We’re taking a leaf out of Denmark’s book in other respects, so why not this one, it's an organised hypocrisy,” he said.

“Why should we tolerate it? Why don't we get real and then perhaps we will know more about where these people are, we can track them better, so that the public will have greater confidence that when they've exhausted their appeals, they're deported.”

Buckland said the policy wasn’t “soft”, and that refugee charities understand that deportations are necessary, but it’s “about being smart” in the way the system works before that point. 

“I just think it’s an idea that’s time has come,” he added. 

He also called for more safe and legal routes for migrants, which would make it easier to tackle the illegal routes such as small boats arriving across the Channel.

“I thought that the Prime Minister's practical approach to it, his willingness to do bilateral deals with Albania, which is not just the source of biggest source of illegal immigrants, it's also the biggest number of foreign national offenders in our prisons, again, was a refreshing dose of good sense and practicality,” he added.

“It's interesting No 10 have directly got involved in this, and [Sunak] has really got into the weeds, which I'm afraid does beg the question about what has been happening in the Home Office, it really does.

“I don't think morale in the Home Office has been good, I think it's a department that is really under the cosh.”

Speaking in the Commons when Sunak presented his immigration plan, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said the Home Office’s own analysis shows “that the right to work does not act as a pull factor for asylum seekers”, and called on the PM to “end this absurd ban”.

Sunak has outright refused to do so. "We will not do that, nor will we grant blanket amnesties, as happened in the past, to get the backlog down," he said. 

“We will go through it methodically and properly. The best way to reduce the pressure on the backlog is to stop people coming here in the first place."

  • For the full discussion with Robert Buckland subscribe to The Rundown here


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