Priti Patel, home secretary, was skewered by Sir John Kerr over her attitudes to asylum seekers (Photo: Getty/Parliament TV)
Sir John Kerr, a former UK ambassador to the US with a distinguished career in the civil service, was responding to the ongoing debate around the Conservatives’ Rwanda plan.
This policy, spearheaded by home secretary Priti Patel, was unveiled in April – but not one asylum seeker who supposedly arrived in the UK by “illegal” means has been sent to the east African country as yet.
The Ministry of Defence also revealed that 13,016 people have made the perilous journey across the English Channel since April 14. Boris Johnson previously pitched the idea as a deterrent against “vile people smugglers”.
Despite the lack of success with the scheme, the contenders to be the next prime minister, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have both promised to continue it.
Truss even said she wants to “extend” the deportation scheme to more countries.
While it does not look like the divisive policy is going to go away anytime soon, Kerr did deliver a scathing blow to anyone who still wants to champion the scheme in just three points while speaking in the House of Lords.
1. Refugee numbers have decreased
Kerr pointed out that there used to be a much larger number of refugees coming to the UK.
He said: “Overall refugee numbers are currently running at about half of where they were about 20 years ago.
“We are not the preferred destination in Europe.”
He acknowledged that the number of small boat crossings is up, but this is partly due to people being forced to take the more dangerous routes.
According to the charity Separated Child, the UK ranks 14th out of all European country when it comes to asylum applications in proportion to its population.
The organisation also claimed the number of global refugees has increased since 2012, but within Europe it fell to 676,300 in 2019 (having reached 1.3 million in 2016).
2. UK asylum schemes are not functioning
Kerr explained: ″Our schemes in practice no longer exist.”
With official resettlement routes shut, asylum seekers are left with little choice but to travel via the most dangerous route possible to flee war and seek safety.
The Syrian scheme and the Dubs scheme – which enabled 480 unaccompanied refugee children to come to the UK from Europe – have both ended.
The Dublin III has also come to a close. This was a regulation which meant the UK could provide a legal route for reuniting separated asylum-seeking family members in the UK – to came to an end when Brexit happened.
Kerr also pointed out that Iranians are the largest nationality to come over to the UK in the last 18 months by the channel – and only one out of those 3,188 was able to come through the official route.
The UK currently has the highest rejection rate for asylum seekers in Europe, according to SWVG refugees.
3. Most are genuine asylum seekers
Kerr also took on Patel’s claims about the refugees trying to come to the UK directly.
The home secretary has previously said 70% of channel crossers are “economic migrants not genuine asylum seekers”, but Kerr said: “That is plainly not true.”
He pointed out that her own department data shows that of the top 10 nationalities arriving in small boats are “virtually all asylum seekers” with 61% granted asylum at the initial stage, and 59% upon appeal.
So, he concludes that over 70% of the Channel crossers are genuine asylum seekers come from war-torn areas, including Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.
Why the UK needs to help asylum seekers, not punish them
Kerr also raised an important point about why the UK should be more welcoming towards asylum seekers, and possibly even offer “a humanitarian visa”.
He added: “Unless we provide a safe route, we are complicit with the people smugglers.”
“Our compassion is well-controlled, because it doesn’t stop us planning to criminalise those who survive the peril of the seas and those at Dover who try to help them.”
This is a reference to Patel’s repeated attempts to make any arrivals to the UK via the English Channel “illegal” in the Nationality and Borders Bill.
In a damning conclusion, Kerr also claimed that if the UK did end up sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, it would be driven by “sheer political prejudice”.
He said to pursue such a policy would not be following the facts, because the facts “do not support a case for cruelty.”
Meanwhile, the UK is planning to break with the international Refugee Convention to push its legislation through.
A former UK Ambassador to the US, a civil servant of experience and impeccable reputation and cross-bench peer, with a truth bomb on immigration. ~AA pic.twitter.com/WJOpJ7Qj7r
— Best for Britain (@BestForBritain) August 8, 2022
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.