Braverman to ask whether UN Refugee Convention ‘is in need of reform’ on US trip

Politicians need to consider whether international refugee rules are “fit for our modern age”, Suella Braverman will say as she struggles to hit her pledge of stopping small boat crossings of the Channel.

The Home Secretary will use a speech in the US to question whether the United Nations Refugee Convention 1951 should be reformed, in a speech she is due to make on Tuesday.

Ms Braverman will use a keynote speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank in Washington DC, to set out a blueprint for international efforts to tackle the refugee crisis.

The senior Cabinet minister has previously taken aim at the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) signed in 1950, claiming it restricted the Government’s efforts to introduce policies such as the Rwanda scheme.

In a keynote speech Ms Braverman is set to describe the UN convention as “an incredible achievement of its age”.

“But more than 70 years on, we now live in a completely different time,” she will add, claiming research suggests it “now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people”.

“It is therefore incumbent upon politicians and thought leaders to ask whether the Refugee Convention, and the way it has come to be interpreted through our courts, is fit for our modern age. Or whether it is in need of reform.”

She will also argue that tests for how refugees are defined have changed, lowering the threshold for claiming asylum.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman (left) walks with British Ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce  in Washington
Home Secretary Suella Braverman (left) walks with British Ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce in Washington (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Braverman will say: “Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman. Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary.

“But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection.”

She is expected to add: “The status quo, where people are able to travel through multiple safe countries, and even reside in safe countries for years, while they pick their preferred destination to claim asylum, is absurd and unsustainable.

“Nobody entering the UK by boat from France is fleeing imminent peril. None of them have ‘good cause’ for illegal entry.”

Migrant accommodation
The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset (John Gurd/PA)

The Home Secretary is also expected to use her visit to seek closer ties with US authorities on tackling illegal migration and people trafficking.

She will meet US homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and attorney general Merrick Garland for talks on migration and national security.

As Ms Braverman mulled over reform of the convention ahead of the visit, her ideas were welcomed by the chairman of campaign group Migration Watch UK.

Alp Mehmet said she was right to “call out the conventions” and suggested the UK should withdraw from both the ECHR and the Refugee Convention if reforms were not made.

But the Refugee Council warned the UK should be “addressing the real issues in the asylum system, such as the record backlog, and providing safe routes for those in need of protection” rather than tearing up agreements.

Freedom from Torture chief executive Sonya Sceats said: “Having already trampled over international law with the Illegal Migration Act, it is shocking to see the Home Secretary imploring the US and other democracies to tear up treaties designed to protect human rights.

“This will make the world an even more dangerous place, and not just for torture survivors seeking safety, but for all of us.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Tories of offering ‘cheap gimmicks’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Ms Braverman “has given up on fixing the Tories’ asylum chaos” and is “looking for anyone else to blame”.

“On her watch, dangerous boat crossings are up, the backlog of undecided cases is at a record high, returns are down by 70% and the taxpayer is now spending an astronomical £8 million a day on hotels – all because the Conservatives have time and again offered cheap gimmicks instead of getting a proper grip,” she said.

“And instead of enhancing international co-operation to go after the criminal gangs and build long-term solutions, this Government has made it harder to get other countries to work with us by undermining international agreements that they still want other countries to abide by and offering no solutions.”

Nearly 24,000 people have been detected crossing the English Channel in small boats this year so far, despite Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats”, though the number of crossings are down from 2022.

The Government’s plans to deal with high levels of unauthorised migration are currently stalled, with the Rwanda plan currently tied up in the courts, while attempts to accommodate 500 migrants on a barge off the Dorset coast are on pause after deadly bacteria Legionella was detected aboard.