Sir Robert Buckland QC, Conservative MP for South Swindon and former Cabinet Minister, sits down with the Former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Baroness Nicky Morgan of Cotes, to discuss migration and asylum.
Distinguishing the difference between migration and asylum
Opening up the discussion, Baroness Morgan stated her belief that “we need to distinguish between migration and asylum.” She said, “I think it’s a really important distinction to make. Behind the 2016 vote, people had an issue with the Government not knowing who’s here, why they’re here and how long they’re here for.”
Sir Robert named “enforcement” as one of the biggest challenges of migration. He says, “the public isn’t necessarily anti-immigration; they are more than happy for people that want to work to come here and make their contribution to the economy. But it is the enforcement and, frankly, the deportation of people who no longer have a right to stay here.”
Recently, Sir Robert was supporting the House of Lords amendments in the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bill which he says, “allows the unlimited right to work for asylum seekers” received Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament on 28 April 2022. “The Danes, whom we are relying on for the Rwanda initiative, do this. They legislated last year for the unlimited right to work.” Calling for a debate, he says, “It seems to me that this is more in tune with where the public is. What do you think?”
Baroness Morgan commented: “People come to the UK for a variety of reasons, but many because they can see that they’re going to make a better life for themselves,” adding that people often feel “compelled to come here for reasons of safety or they cannot provide for themselves and their families”. In relation to the Ukraine crisis, she says, “the British public has shown that they want to be generous, they want to open doors, they recognise that people want to come here.”
A fair but firm enforcement system
While this is the “overall stance of the UK Government,” Baroness Morgan believes that we need to implement a “fair but firm enforcement system.” She highlights, “there are undoubtedly cases where people have not been honest with the system on why they want to be here or the routes that they’ve come in,” and that it’s his problem that has prompted the Government to introduce the Rwanda asylum solution. She worries that for a range of political problems, fleeting Westminster attention fails to “solve the problem at source”.
According to Baroness Morgan, the Home Office is trying to cut business models like people smuggling off who, she says, are “making money out of utter misery and desperation.” Asking the all-important question, Sir Robert probed, “But how do we do that?”
While he notes that, “there are certain parts of politics that say there are too many people coming,” he argues, “it’s great that we’ve got visa schemes [because] we can set the numbers, we don’t have to worry about free movement, and we can match demand on the basis of evidence.”
The tight labour market
Commenting on labour demand, Baroness Morgan says, “I do think there is an issue with some sectors thinking it is easier to bring people in than it is to train.” However, given the tight labour market, she believes that most employers are trying in every way possible whether that’s through “apprenticeships, training schemes or support schemes like Kickstarter.” Ultimately, she argues, “it’s then saying, actually, there are some jobs where we just know the skill is overseas and we need people to come in.”
In the UK, there are 1.25 million labour vacancies which Sir Robert says is, “the highest number of people in work since records began. Yet, we still don’t have enough people to fill those spaces.”
The next stage, Sir Robert believes is to determine how efficient the Home Office needs to be. Baroness Morgan as a serving MP saw, “a lot of cases where people wanted to appeal an immigration decision, bring more paperwork to the attention of the Home Office and know where they stood.” From accommodation to job security, “they just needed that immigration status to be confirmed.”
Feelings run hot on the issue of immigration. Baroness Morgan and Sir Robert seem to have a more nuanced understanding of the public’s mixed feelings on this topic than most. Fundamentally the British public do not want to worry about immigration. Polls reveal contradictory views, good feelings towards Ukrainian refugees, positive feelings about migrants setting up businesses in the UK but negative views of asylum seekers crossing the channel which can reflect poorly on the Government.
The issue of “control” so bluntly communicated during the Brexit referendum is often raised. The complex truth is that even outside the EU the UK Government has limited control over immigration. In 2021 the biggest reason people came to the UK was to join with family, with over 280,000 visas issued. This represents a 105% increase over 2020. The Government cannot ‘control’ this number without rewriting legislation, breaking international treaties and denying people their right to a family life. A further 240,000 visas were issued for work in 2021, aiding the UK economy greatly. Certainly, these visas could be curtailed, but this would come at a significant economic cost. Over 430,000 visas were given to students, a massive export market for the UK, which helps fund university education for UK citizens as foreign students receive no subsidy for their education.
Finally in 2021, the year when Britain’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan ended and tens of thousands of Afghan lives were endangered by renewed Taliban rule, the UK accepted less than 15,000 refugees out of over 48,000 asylum applications. It is little wonder that politicians find this issue a hard one, most seem to think that the British public would like to reduce migration overall and that may be the case. But truthfully, no avenue of reduction is attractive, and when it comes to refugees the outcome can be downright repugnant.