Home Office in ‘chaos’ as new Borders Act ‘made the system worse’ Labour says

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper  (PA Wire)
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (PA Wire)

The Home Office is in “chaos” amid a backlog of asylum cases which has been made worse by the Borders Act introduced earlier this year, the shadow home secretary has claimed.

Yvette Cooper said on Friday that the “huge backlog” in cases has led to “inappropriate” use of hotels costing taxpayers millions of pounds a day.

“It is a chaotic system at the moment, decision-making in the Home Office has collapsed, and that’s why we will get a grip on this,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The Nationality and Borders Act passed in April has been part of the Home Office’s attempt to crack down on people smuggling and speed up deportation measures to deter illegal entry to the UK.

But Ms Cooper said that the Home Office has “made the system worse as a result of their legislation”.

“The Borders Bill…that it said would speed up the system, has actually added a six-month delay in the case of about 18,000 cases. We think that could be addressed,” she told the BBC.

She said there has been a 40 per cent drop in the number of Home Office decisions made, and an even bigger drop in the number of cases taken on by individual decision makers.

“They were taking four times as many decisions just four or five years ago,” Ms Cooper claimed.

Fewer than two per cent of people arriving in small boats across the Channel have had their cases decided, she said, and there are currently 150,000 cases in the system.

Labour would remove “some of the additional bureaucracy the government has been adding to the system even in the last few months”, Ms Cooper said.

Labour announced on Thursday that the party would introduce a fast-tracking process for migrants from “safe” countries, including Albania, in a bid to clear the backlog of asylum claims.

Ms Cooper said Norway, Sweden and Switzerland all have some version of this.

So far this year 12,000 Albanians have arrived in the UK using small boats, compared with just 50 in 2020.

“There’s no tracking in the system at all at the moment,” she said, adding that just two weeks ago Home Secretary Suella Braverman “rejected this tracking approach”.

“All we’re getting from the government is rhetoric and not a common sense approach.”

The opposition also pledged to set up “a major new unit” in the National Crime Agency to go after criminal gangs and pay for this by cancelling the “unworkable, unethical, extremely extortionate” Rwanda scheme, of which the Home Office has paid £150m to Rwanda already.

She said the government is paying more than £5m a day on “inappropriate” hotel accommodation “because the backlog has grown”.

“So we’re talking about £2bn a year, as a result of having this backlog in place. That is just an irresponsible way to be approaching this.”

Ms Cooper said Labour’s plans would “save substantial sums of money”.

It comes as France added two further rescue boats in the Channel to deal with the growing number of crossings, in what has been described as an “unprecedented” move.

The extra boats will strengthen the coastguard’s rescue capabilities in the Channel-North Sea sector.

Last month, the UK agreed to increase payments to France by £8m more a year to £63m to try to stop channel crossings in small boats.

The money will increase surveillance of French beaches and British police officers will also be able to observe patrols within France. French officers patrolling the coast are being increased from about 250 to 350 over five months.

More than 40,000 people have made such crossings this year - a record number.

A Home Office spokesperson told the Standard that the number of people arriving in the UK is putting the asylum system under “incredible pressure”.

“The Government is taking immediate action to bring the asylum backlog down. We have increased asylum caseworkers by 80 per cent to more than 1,000, and are rolling out a successful pilot scheme nationwide to boost the number of claims processed.”

The Home Office is also prioritising applications from children and young people where possible, as well as increasing the number of decision makers.