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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today released a new report, Alternative policies for the UK’s asylum system, calling for new asylum policies that seek to reduce the flow of irregular migrants to the UK and put due process at the heart of the asylum system.

The report analyses UK public attitudes towards the principles and policies of the asylum system, and offers new policy ideas for — and a strong case to — this Conservative Government for reforming the asylum system. 

Based on public opinion, Bright Blue recommends that the UK Government adopts four new policies: 

  1. The UK Government should commit to an annual quota for the number of refugees under the UNHCR resettlement schemes, subject to official review each year, and numbers proportionate to the fragility of certain countries.
  2. The UK Government should introduce a new humanitarian visa that would allow a capped number of asylum seekers to apply for a visa overseas to arrive legally in the UK for the purposes of claiming asylum, subject to official review each year and numbers proportionate to the fragility of certain countries.
  3. The Rwanda asylum agreement should be amended rather than abolished, and the UK Government should arrange for the removals of migrants to Rwanda only when they have had their asylum claims heard and refused and are failing to leave the UK voluntarily. 
  4. The UK Government should reinstate for a long trial period the two-tier system that existed between April 2022 and June 2023, enabling and promoting differential treatment of refugees who arrived via legal routes and those who arrived irregularly. Only if the evidence after the trial shows that it impacts the decision-making of asylum seekers should it be made permanent.

 

Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, commented: 

“Since asylum applications are at record levels, the Government urgently needs to get a grip and implement alternative policies to reduce the number of people making dangerous journeys to arrive in the UK. The main proposal to detain and deport nearly all irregular migrants, especially to Rwanda, is neither realistic nor fair – it’s just not cricket.

“The UK public do want tough action to be taken on irregular migrants, but only once their claim has been heard and rejected – in other words, Brits believe in due process. So the priority for the Home Office must be improving the speed and accuracy of asylum processing, and ensuring the effective tracking and removal of people who are not eligible to be here.”

The Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP, Former Justice Secretary, commented: 

“Due process is the very foundation of the British justice system. As Bright Blue’s considered report identifies, the public want and expect us to protect the rights of the individual and administer justice in a firm but fair way. We, as Conservatives, should be doing nothing less.

“Justice must also be the watchword when it comes to our country’s approach to asylum. I welcome Bright Blue’s recommendation that the Rwanda policy be revisited and revised rather than abolished, and that this must be done in a way that does not undermine the role third countries can play in both deterrence and the processing of claims.

“The report is also right to recognise that there is far more to be done to tackle the cause of the present asylum difficulties. Unscrupulous criminal gangs must be stopped, and their business model dismantled, restoring the all-important quality of justice to our asylum system. This would be reinforced by adopting further Bright Blue policies, such as humanitarian visas, an annual refugee quota and the re-introduction of the two-tier system that wasn’t given enough time to work.”

David Simmonds CBE MP, Chair of the APPG for Migration, commented: 

“We are rightly proud of the rule of law as one of the foundations of our democracy. Our approach to asylum needs to focus on putting our own policies and laws correctly into practice, rather than seeking to disadvantage the most vulnerable by depriving them of legal rights that our own citizens rely on when in difficulty abroad.”

Bright Blue’s key findings on UK public attitudes towards the asylum system:

Perceptions of asylum seekers 

  • 50% of the UK public and 50% of 2019 Conservative voters are most likely to believe there is a ‘hostile’ reception towards irregular asylum seekers who arrive in the UK rather than a ‘hospitable’ reception. This is in terms of where asylum seekers stay when they are in the UK, the benefits they can receive and the rights available to them.
  • A plurality of the UK public (48%) say that one of the main reasons why irregular asylum seekers arrive in the UK is because they are ‘driven by the welfare benefits available here’.
  • A majority of the UK public favours deporting irregular migrants, but favours due process when determining deportations, preferring that government remove nearly all irregular migrants who enter the UK, but only after their asylum claim has been rejected (41%) rather than automatically (34%), as is the current government policy under the Illegal Migration Act 2023. 
  • A majority of the UK public favours detaining irregular migrants, but would rather failed asylum seekers are detained (31%) than those waiting for a decision on their claim (23%).

Perceptions of the Rwanda asylum agreement: 

  • The UK public marginally favours due process when determining deportations to Rwanda under the new Rwanda asylum plan, preferring that irregular asylum seekers be sent only if they are not genuine refugees (26%) rather than automatically (24%) as is current government policy under the Illegal Migration Act 2023.
  • Of those among the UK public who are are opposed deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, 50% cite ‘Human rights concerns’ as the reason for their opposition.
  • Of those among the UK public who support deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, a plurality (36%) cite ‘To deter irregular crossings across the English Channel’ as the reason. 

Perceptions of potential policies: 

  • A majority of the public think that ‘the UK should allow some asylum seekers to apply for a visa overseas to arrive legally in the UK for the purposes of claiming asylum’ (57%).
  • A plurality of the UK public support some form of expansion of resettlement schemes (48%). The most popular option being that schemes be expanded from specific fragile countries but the number of places capped (19%).
  • The UK public favours due process on maritime push-back policies, preferring that UK authorities block irregular migrants arriving by small boats from going ashore, but only if the return of the boats is safe and in line with international law (44%), rather than even if it violates international law (26%).

ENDS