Three Years of Patel’s Home OfficeHas Shifted Politics to the Right
The Home Secretary is not running for leader, but her hard-line policies on immigration and policing are being cheered on by the current candidates, Sascha Lavin and Sian Norris report
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The Home Secretary Priti Patel has chosen not to run for Conservative Party leader and therefore Prime Minister, saying her “focus is to continue working to get more police on our streets, support our amazing security services to keep our country safe and control our borders”. She has not signalled support for another candidate.
But from the start of the race, those candidates have been keen to show they can be as hard-nosed about immigration and policing as Patel, who this month celebrates her third anniversary in the Home Office.
The leadership candidates have lined up to back the controversial Migration and Economic Development Partnership between the UK and Rwanda, which has been criticised by Conservative backbenchers, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and various migrant rights groups for breaking international norms on refugee protection.
The popularity of the policy and its prominence in the debate tells us how far to the right the Conservatives have moved on immigration – to the point where deporting asylum seekers to East Africa is now seen as the ‘norm’.
It is the latest of a number of policies from Patel’s Home Office that have been accused of eroding human rights across both asylum, freedom of assembly, and policing.
Her time as Home Secretary has also been marked by allegations of bullying and disinformation – including doubts cast over her claim that the European Union has resettled refugees in Rwanda.
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Migration and Asylum
Ask her supporters, and Patel’s biggest achievement during her tenure as Home Secretary is the New Plan for Immigration, the framework that underpins the Nationality and Borders Act.
To her critics, the Anti-Refugee Bill, as it is dubbed, rips up the international consensus on asylum and refugee rights, creating a two-tiered system that penalises people depending on the way they enter the UK. Those who come via regular resettlement routes will be granted greater rights, such as family reunification and leave to remain, than those who enter via irregular routes including small boats across the Channel.
The plan risks making it harder for women and children to claim asylum in the UK, with up to 60% of women and girls currently accepted as refugees at risk of being turned away due to changes in family reunification rules. The Home Office disputes this claim, saying “the New Plan for Immigration provides safe and legal routes for those who need it most, as shown by the response to the crisis in Afghanistan and Ukraine where the majority of people we helped were women and children”.
The Home Office has justified its range of deterrent policies by saying they wish to reduce the number of people making risky journeys across the Channel and break up the smuggling gangs that profit from desperation.
But as reported in this paper, the Home Office’s own equality impact assessment into the New Plan for Immigration said there was “limited” evidence that people seeking asylum would be put off by the policies proposed. Despite this coming from the department itself, a Home Office spokesperson said the claim was “baseless” and “our world-leading New Plan for Immigration is part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people smugglers’ business model”.
The rhetoric about tackling people smuggling is also undermined by the Nationality and Borders Act’s undermining of modern slavery protections. This includes the decision to penalise victims for not sharing details of their exploitation “fast enough” and makes it harder for victims convicted of criminal activity to access support, even when that criminality formed part of their exploitation.
All of this compounds the issues facing an asylum system that has long been struggling to cope. Since 2012, the department has doubled the time it takes to process visas and asylum claims. A Government spokesperson said: “Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system, enabling us to grant protection to those entitled to it and to remove those with no right to be here more quickly”.
The rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer last year heightened concerns about a culture of sexism and misogyny within the ranks, but Patel has continued to cling to the “one bad apple” narrative.
Indeed, the Home Secretary has resisted calls to broaden the scope of the Angiolini Inquiry, launched in the wake of Everard’s murder, to consider the thousands of other incidents of police violence against women and girls.
A Government spokesperson told Byline Times: “Given the need to provide assurance as swiftly as possible, the Angiolini Inquiry was established as a non-statutory inquiry but can be converted to a statutory inquiry if required”.
At least 14 police officers had abused their position for sexual gain over a four-year period, targeting vulnerable women they met through their policing duties, according to a review of 18 police forces in England and Wales by the Byline Intelligence Team. This paper also revealed that 26 members of the Met had been arrested between January 2018 and August 2020 for sexual offences.
But these cases will be ignored by the Angiolini Inquiry: the first phase of the investigation will focus on the conduct of Wayne Couzens, while the second part will only consider any systemic issues raised by the first.
It is not just Patel’s actions that show her reluctance to admit there is systemic sexism in policing. It is her words too.
The Home Secretary praised the police in a speech to the Police Federation, dismissing those who perpetuate “appalling behaviour” as a “minority” and claiming that “no one does more…to make our country great”.
But more, in fact, should be done by the police to “make our country great” – starting with ridding all forces of police officers who have committed sexual misconduct crimes. This paper found that police perpetrators are rarely brought to justice: four in 10 police officers found guilty of sexual misconduct kept their jobs in the four-year period to 2020. In the Metropolitan police, more than half of those found to have committed sexual misconduct also stayed in post.
Patel’s controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing And Courts Act will not “make our country great”. Despite the Government’s promise that this legislation will tackle male violence, there is little on the statute to protect women and girls. Instead, the newly strengthened police powers will curtail the right to protest, including for those who want to speak out against misogyny.
The act will also hit people already targeted by over-policing hardest, including young Black men and Traveller communities.
There have been some positive changes under Patel’s leadership.
The landmark Domestic Abuse Act was finally passed, having been introduced with cross-party support under Theresa May’s Government. Further, the Istanbul Convention to end violence against women and girls was finally ratified by the UK Government. Progress continues to be made on tackling female genital mutilation, thanks to the energy of campaigners like Nimco Ali.
However, the Domestic Abuse Act fails to protect migrant women with no recourse to public funds – and the Government may have ratified the Istanbul Convention but has reserved Article 59 which gives residency rights to migrant women who face abuse from a spouse or partner. This creates a tiered system which excludes migrant victims and survivors from support.
Hannana Siddiqui, Head of Policy and Research at Southall Black Sister told Byline Times: “The reservation [on the Istanbul Convention] creates a two-tier system where some migrant victims are not afforded the same protection from domestic abuse than non-migrant victims as the fear of deportation prevents many from leaving abusive relationships. This would also render any long term legal reform giving benefits or support to these victims ineffective as women may not come forward to access support if they do not have the right to settlement too. All women have a human right to protection from abuse. Despite the welcomed ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the reservation would continue to present a stark choice to many migrant women: domestic abuse or deportation and destitution?”
A Government spokesperson said: “The measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, such as stop and search, are there to help the police protect the public. Our twin-track approach combines tough enforcement to get dangerous weapons off the street with early intervention programmes, including by investing £200m in the Youth Endowment Fund which helps divert children and young people away from crime and towards jobs, education and other opportunities.
“We are putting more police on our streets to keep our communities safe. Through the Beating Crime Plan the police will have the powers and tools they need to stop crimes happening in the first place and keep serious offenders behind bars for longer. More than 13,500 additional officers have already been recruited across England and Wales and we are on track to deliver our commitment to recruit 20,000”.
This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.