Priti Patel has come under fire from MPs and human rights charities over her planned overhaul of the UK immigration system.
Under the Home Secretary’s proposals, migrants who arrive in the UK by small boats or other illegal routes will be indefinitely liable for removal even if they are granted asylum.
Setting out the plans to MPs, Ms Patel said the government had promised to “take back control” of asylum and immigration and would introduce a “faster and fairer” system that would “better support the most vulnerable”.
She said: “The government has taken back control of legal immigration by ending free movement and introducing a points-based immigration system.
“We are now addressing the challenge of illegal migration head-on.
“I’m introducing the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades, a new comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan.
“Because while people are dying, we have a responsibility to act.”
For “too long” parts of the immigration system have been “open to abuse”, she said, adding that the system has become “overwhelmed” with a backlog of 109,000 asylum claims.
🇬🇧 Our New Plan for Immigration will deter illegal entry into the UK.
It will break the business model of people smugglers – and protect the lives of those they endanger. pic.twitter.com/bBr3FsA294
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) March 24, 2021
Some 52,000 are awaiting an initial decision and three quarters are awaiting a year or more, she told MPs.
She said: “The persistent failure to enforce our immigration rules with a system that is open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals is eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help.”
The Home Office has argued that “fairness” and a genuine need for refuge are at the heart of the new proposals, as well as including measures to tackle people smugglers and “remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be there”.
And the department said that “for the first time” 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”.
The British Red Cross said it will create an “unfair two-tiered system” for asylum.
The SNP’s immigration spokeswoman, Anne McLaughlin, branded the plans “shameful”.
She said: “The Home Secretary should be ashamed to make this statement today, there is nothing pretty about this.
“Its ugly, dog whistle politics and I can tell her that the SNP wants no part.
“Scotland will not live with the associated shame of this, Scotland recognises its international and modal obligations, but we also recognise that we’re prevented by the UK Government from living up to them.
“I despair for those having to live under this toxic environment.”
Ms Patel responded by saying she had made a “compelling case” for stopping people trafficking, stopping illegal migration and creating safe and legal routes.
She also said the SNP needed to “do a lot more when it comes to resettling refugees, and working with the government when it comes to housing individuals that are fleeing persecution”.