Suella Braverman has said that multiculturalism has failed and migration poses an "existential challenge" to the West in an anti-immigration speech in the USA.
The Home Secretary used the speech to claim that the United Nations’ Refugee Convention's threshold has been lowered to far, saying that offering asylum to a person because they are gay, a woman or fearing discrimination in their home country is not sustainable. Campaigns groups have criticised Braverman, saying her comments mark a "race to the bottom".
Leanne MacMillan, director of global at Stonewall, said that the "indisputable fact is that LGBTQ+ people continue to face persecution across the world", with 12 countries where gay people face the death penalty. While Freedom from Torture said any attempt by the UK Government to “weaken protection” for the gay community was “shameful”.
Labour said that Braverman had "given up on fixing the Tories’ asylum chaos at home so now she’s resorting to grandstanding abroad and looking for anyone else to blame".
Braverman is told the audience in Washington DC today (26 September) that a failure to control migration poses an “existential challenge” to the "political and cultural institutions of the West". She said: “Uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination ... with too little thought given to the impact on social cohesion."
Braverman also claimed said that thousands of extra places in schools will need to be created due to “high birth rates among foreign-born mothers”. She also argued that immigration causes “threats to public safety”, claiming that there are “heightened levels of criminality connected to some small boat arrivals”. She added that "dismissing as idiots or bigots those members of the public who express legitimate concerns is not merely unfair, it is dangerous".
This comes as recent polling from YouGov shows that the public back Labour's position on small boats over the Conservatives' policy by five percentage points.
Braverman also claimed there has been a “shift” in what qualifies as a basis for an asylum claim, with it moving from “persecution” to “discrimination” in a change that shesaid has allowed millions more to potentially qualify for refugee status.
She declared that no migrant crossing the Channel to Britain is in “imminent peril” and accuse some asylum seekers of “shopping around” for their “preferred destination”. She said that research indicates that the 1951 UN refugee accord — backed by 149 states — “now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people”, with the threshold for claiming asylum having been reduced over time.
Braverman said: “I think most members of the public would recognise those fleeing a real risk of death, torture, oppression or violence as in need of protection. However, as case law has developed, what we have seen in practice is an interpretive shift away from ‘persecution’ in favour of something more akin to a definition of ‘discrimination’.
“And a similar shift away from a ‘well-founded fear’ toward a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible fear’. The practical consequence of which has been to expand the number of those who may qualify for asylum, and to lower the threshold for doing so.”
She continued: “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.”
Ben Bradshaw, a gay Labour MP and former cabinet minister, took aim at Braverman over her comments, pointing out that being homosexual in some countries can have deadly risks.
He tweeted: “Any LGBT or other Tories prepared to condemn Braverman for this? She doesn’t seem to grasp that simply being gay is enough to result in persecution or death in many countries.”
While Stonewall's Leanne MacMillan explained: "The indisputable fact is that LGBTQ+ people continue to face persecution across the world. At its most basic level of understanding, there are still over 60 countries around the world where same-sex relations are criminalised, including 12 with a death penalty, simply for being who they are and loving who they love. LGBTQ+ people are forced to flee persecution, including a litany of human rights abuses including torture, ill-treatment, and denial of the most basic of rights to survive.
She added: "The implication that LGBTQ+ and women asylum seekers are using their identities to falsely claim asylum en masse is unhelpful and unsound when viewed alongside statistics which clearly show that the majority of claims are valid and made by those who are at serious risk of violence.
"The UK has a proud recent history of helping LGBTQ+ people fleeing persecution from the Taliban and for standing up for LGBTQ+ rights on the global stage. This is the kind of global leadership we need to see, not a race to the bottom and turning our back on LGBTQ+ people in some of the world’s most hostile contexts."
Sonya Sceats, chief executive at Freedom from Torture, said: “LGBTQI+ people are tortured in many countries for who they are and who they love, and their pain is no less than other survivors we treat in our therapy rooms. They deserve precisely the same protection too. For a liberal democracy like Britain to try to weaken protection for this community is shameful.”
But Chris Philp, a minister in the Home Office, appeared to double down on the comments, claiming some people falsely claim to be persecuted and “some people claim to be gay when they’re not”.
He told Times Radio: “When I was immigration minister, I came across a number of cases when people had claimed to be gay, produced photographs of them and a sort of same-sex partner and it turned out on further investigation it was a sibling, it wasn’t a same-sex partner at all.”
According to Home Office data, sexual orientation formed part of the basis for an asylum claim in 1% of all applications in 2021. That was 77% fewer than in 2019, when sexual orientation made up 5% of all applications, and 7% in 2017.
Braverman’s decision to call into question the UN accord comes against a backdrop of domestic struggles to control irregular migration numbers. She is tasked with helping to deliver the Prime Minister’s pledge of stopping the boats from crossing the Channel — one of five commitments that Rishi Sunak hopes to deliver ahead of a likely election next year.
Almost 24,000 migrants have arrived into the UK via small boats since January, while the asylum backlog has reached record levels. Government figures show a total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application at the end of June, up 44% from 122,213 in June 2022. It’s the highest figure since current records began in 2010.
The number of asylum seekers waiting more than six months stood at 139,961 at the end of June, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record high. While Home Office spending on asylum has almost reached £4 billion, eight times the amount a decade ago.
The government also faced a series of legal challenges around its plans to house asylum seekers and the Illegal Migration Bill, which recently received royal assent. The main tenet of that policy - sending refugees to Rwanda - has been ruled unlawful by the High Court.
The High Court has also ruled that Braverman acted unlawfully by withholding payments of £3 a week to provide healthy food for children under four and pregnant women. And West Lindsey District Council, in Lincolnshire, recently won the right to a judicial review, which would determine whether the government can house migrants at RAF Scampton.
Plans to move 2,000 migrants into RAF Scampton were reportedly delayed until October, after delays in conducting surveys on the 14 buildings designated for migrant accommodation.
Labour has accused the Tories of looking to blame international treaties for its own failures to control immigration. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The Home Secretary has given up on fixing the Tories’ asylum chaos at home so now she’s resorting to grandstanding abroad and 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 per cent 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."