Suella Braverman’s modern slavery ‘abuse’ claims questioned by former watchdog

Home secretary tells Conservative Party conference abuse is ‘derailing UK’s illegal migration policy’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Wednesday 05 October 2022 10:08 BST
Suella Braverman says she is ‘obsessed’ with planes taking off to Rwanda

The home secretary’s claims that modern slavery laws are being abused to the extent that they are “derailing the UK’s policy on illegal migration” have been challenged by a watchdog.

In her Conservative Party conference speech, Suella Braverman said that some Albanian migrants crossing the English Channel were claiming protection but “their claims of being trafficked are lies”.

She added: “The hard truth is that our modern slavery laws are being abused by people gaming the system. We’ve seen a 450 per cent increase in modern slavery claims since 2014.”

Ms Braverman said convicted paedophiles and rapists had also tried to “game the system” by using claims of modern slavery to block deportations, including a man who went on to commit a further rape.

The home secretary suggested that laws may be brought in to change the operation of the Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced by Theresa May in 2015, telling conference delegates: “We simply can’t go on like this.”

Potential modern slaves and human trafficking victims currently have their claims decided by the National Referral Mechanism, which offers financial and practical support during the assessment period.

Dame Sara Thornton, the UK’s former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said that the number of referrals had risen since 2014 because of work by the Home Office, police and authorities to spot victims.

“This is a hidden crime and we have got a lot better at identifying victims,” the former police chief told The Independent.

“There has been a lot of work done by police forces, local authorities, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement to know what the signs are.

“I don’t know where the evidence for claiming the rise is because of abuse has come from.”

There has been no Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner since Dame Sara’s fixed three-year term ended in April.

The government’s public appointments website says the competition for her successor has closed, but there has been no announcement since final interviews took place six months ago.

A post on the watchdog’s website said it has “no remit to provide views or take on or contribute to new work” in the absence of a commissioner.

Ms Braverman said she wanted the system to “strike the right balance” and help those in genuine need, adding: “Everyone agrees that we must fight the evil of modern slavery. I’m immensely proud of the UK’s global leadership in protecting genuine victims.”

Liz Truss 'looking at more deals beyond Rwanda' to tackle migrant crisis

The home secretary did not give any details of forthcoming legal changes in her speech, which followed reports that asylum seekers arriving on small boats would be “banned” from claiming asylum in the UK.

Ms Braverman said she would “look to bring forward legislation to make it clear that the only route to the United Kingdom is through a safe and legal route”, adding: “If you deliberately enter illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda that is where your asylum claim will be considered.”

Powers to declare asylum applications from people who have spent time in France “inadmissible” and deport them to Rwanda already exist, but the scheme has been put on hold because of ongoing legal challenges.

The home secretary said she wanted to “find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work” and took aim at the European Court of Human Rights, which issued injunctions causing the first attempted flight to be grounded in June.

“We need to take back control,” she added. “We already have some of the toughest penalties for those not playing by our rules, but we will redouble our efforts to go after them.”

At an event earlier on Tuesday, Ms Braverman said that seeing a flight take asylum seekers to Rwanda was her “dream” and “obsession”.

But she admitted that she does not expect any planes to take off until after Christmas, because of the prospect of an upcoming High Court decision being appealed to higher courts.

Last month, The Independent revealed the full horrors of the first attempted Rwanda fight in June, which saw asylum seekers restrained and attached to plane seats after self-harming and threatening suicide.

Forms filled out by custody staff after “use of force incidents” show how the detainees started crying, screaming, shouting and frantically calling lawyers and loved ones after being told they would be sent to Rwanda.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in