‘Haven’t a clue!’ Top Tory attacks Home Office bosses over ‘staggering’ failure to give asylum figures

Lee Anderson savages civil servants – as it emerges that the Home Office doesn’t know what happened to 17,000 asylum seekers whose claims were withdrawn

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 29 November 2023 15:09 GMT
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Related video: Lee Anderson attacks Home Office bosses over ‘staggering’ failure on asylum figures

Senior Conservative Lee Anderson has lambasted Home Office chiefs for their “staggering” failure to provide figures on the faltering asylum system to a group of MPs.

The deputy Tory chair said “the big boss hasn’t got a clue” during an awkward grilling of the department’s permanent secretary Sir Matthew Rycroft.

It came as Sir Matthew and his Home Office deputy made the bombshell admission that they simply do not know what has happened to 17,000 asylum seekers whose claims have been withdrawn.

Senior MPs on the home affairs committee expressed their astonishment, as deputy permanent secretary Simon Ridley said: “In most cases I don’t know where those people are.”

Labour chair Dame Diana Johnson said it was “amazing” that the top officials did not have more precise figures and accused them of being “really disrespectful to this committee”.

Mr Anderson, the combative right-wing Tory, demanded figures on many rejected asylum seekers had been deported in the past three years – excluding criminals and Albanians.

Sir Matthew and his deputy looked puzzled, before the Mr Ridley said: “I don’t think we have [those numbers].” The Home Office permanent secretary then said they would “write to the committee with those numbers”.

Mr Anderson fumed: “I’m sorry … but I find it absolutely staggering that the big boss hasn’t got a clue – not just on this question, but on nearly every other question we’ve asked today.”

Negotiations on Rishi Sunak’s planned new treaty with Rwanda over his deportation policy are in their final stages, according to the Home Office’s top civil servant.

Sir Matthew told MPs officials were in the capital Kigali “as we speak” as they put the “finishing touches” to the talks after the Supreme Court ruled against the plan to send some asylum seekers on a one-way trip to the African nation.

Lee Anderson ‘staggered’ by Home Office officials’ failure to provide any figures

Grilled further by MPs, Home Office officials could not say how many people might come to UK from Rwanda under a clause in the deportation deal struck by the Conservative government. Sir Matthew admitted that the Home Office had “not got a number in mind”.

Senior Tory Tim Loughton also grilled Mr Rycroft on why he could not give any figures for the cost of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, when a Home Office document had already revealed the cost to be £169,000 per person.

The top Home Office officials could not give the cross-party group of MPs any figures on the cost of the deal which has seen asylum seekers placed on the Bibby Stockholm barge on the coast of Dorset.

Mr Loughton also challenged the officials on the 17,316 asylum claims that were withdrawn in the year to September 2023. The senior Tory said 5 per cent of cases were classified as withdrawn because their claim was not substantiated – but 95 per cent of withdrawals were categorised as happening “for other reasons”.

Mr Ridley said these were asylum seekers who made a claim, were invited to interview, but did not turn up. “In most cases I don’t know where those people are,” he said.

Rishi Sunak heading to PMQs on Wednesday

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer used PMQs to argue that Mr Sunak was facing “open revolt” from Tory MPs – saying and the PM had “lost control of the borders” as well as his own frontbench.

Referring to immigration minister Robert Jenrick’s reported push for a hardline, five-point plan to tackle record net migration, Mr Starmer said: “The immigration minister thinks the prime minister is failing because apparently nobody will listen to his secret plan. The former home secretary thinks he is failing because of his magical thinking.”

The Labour leader said: “The prime minister seems to be the only person on the Tory benches without his own personal immigration plan. Cleary his own side don’t have any faith in him. Why should the public?”

Senior right-wing Tory John Hayes said Mr Sunak must bring forward “urgent measures” to deal with record legal migration. He also demanded that the emergency Rwanda bill should be in the “exact form” recommended by Mr Jenrick.

Mr Hayes – the Common Sense Group leader, who has claimed Mr Jenrick is a “true believer” – said the net migration figures were a “catastrophe” for everyone apart from “guilt-riven bourgeois liberals”.

In a sign of growing Tory impatience with Mr Sunak, right-winger Simon Clarke tweeted: “We either set out a credible plan on legal immigration, and a really robust emergency bill on Rwanda, or we face more PMQs like that one.”

Cabinet minister Steve Barclay said Rishi Sunak’s government needed to “go further, faster” to bring down net migration after the latest figures showed that it hit a record-high of 745,000 last year.

Mr Barclay, a former health secretary, confirmed restrictions on social care workers’ relatives was being considered by Mr Sunak and home secretary James Cleverly.

“One of the areas where I know the Home Secretary will want to look is dependants of those coming in to the care sector,” he told Times Radio. “So, there are a range of options.”

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