Being gay or a woman isn’t enough to claim asylum, says Suella Braverman

Ms Braverman will urge politicians to rip up the United Nations Refugee Convention

Adam Forrest
Political correspondent
Tuesday 26 September 2023 10:20 BST
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Related video: Some asylum seekers ‘claim to be gay when they’re not’, says Tory minister

Fearing persecution over being gay or a woman is not enough to claim asylum Suella Braverman will argue in a keynote speech on Tuesday – using her US visit to call on world leaders to change the UN Refugee Convention.

Ms Braverman will controversially argue that channel migrants should no longer be treated as refugees and claim current asylum laws create a “huge incentive” for illegal immigration.

The home secretary will use her address at the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank in Washington DC, to set out a new blueprint for international efforts to tackle the crisis.

Ms Braverman will say the landmark international protocol of 1951 – the basis of the global asylum system which has been signed by 146 countries – should be reformed and replaced with something “fit for our modern age”.

It comes as Rishi Sunak’s plans to “stop the boats” - one of his key leadership pledges - is floundering, with almost 24,000 migrants having crossed the English channel in small boats this year.

In a bid to grapple control of the crossings, she is expected to say: “Nobody entering the UK by boat from France is fleeing imminent peril.”

And, she will add: “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.”

Home secretary Suella Braverman

Home Office minister Chris Philp said some people are falsely claiming to be persecuted, claiming that “some people claim to be gay when they’re not”.

The junior minister told Times Radio on Tuesday: “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.”

Mr Philp also argued that the UN’s Refugee Convention needs a rethink. “It does need to be looked at on an international basis because we’ve seen people use asylum claims who are essentially economic migrants, and we’ve also seen people shopping around between different countries to choose where to claim asylum.”

But charity the Refugee Council said the convention’s principles were “just as important today as they have ever been”.

Chief executive Enver Solomon said: “Abandoning them is not an option: We must stand firm in our commitment to all people fleeing persecution and the international frameworks that were created to protect them.”

Ms Braverman has previously taken aim at the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) signed in 1950 – claiming it is thwarting the efforts of Rishi Sunak’s government to send asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda, another measure designed to reduce the number of amall boat crossings.

Ms Braverman is set to describe the UN convention as “an incredible achievement of its age” – but will suggest it needs to be reformed to stop it offering such wide and generous protections.

“More than 70 years on, we now live in a completely different time,” she will say. “According to analysis by Nick Timothy and Karl Williams for the Centre for Policy Studies, it now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people.

“It is therefore incumbent upon politicians and thought leaders to ask whether the Refugee Convention, and the way it has come to be interpreted through our courts, is fit for our modern age. Or whether it is in need of reform.”

Home secretary Suella Braverman to make speech in US

The home secretary is also expected to use her visit this week to seek closer ties with US authorities on tackling illegal migration and people trafficking.

She will meet US homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and attorney general Merrick Garland for talks on migration and national security.

The Refugee Council warned the UK should be “addressing the real issues in the asylum system, such as the record backlog, and providing safe routes for those in need of protection” rather than tearing up agreements.

But her ideas were welcomed by the chairman of campaign group Migration Watch UK. Alp Mehmet said she was right to “call out the conventions” and suggested the UK should withdraw from both the ECHR and the Refugee Convention if reforms were not made.

Nearly 24,000 people have been detected crossing the English Channel in small boats this year so far, despite Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats”, though the number of crossings are down from 2022.

The government’s plans to deal with high levels of unauthorised migration are currently stalled, with the Rwanda plan tied up in the courts.

Attempts to accommodate 500 migrants on a barge off the Dorset coast are on pause after deadly bacteria Legionella was detected onboard.

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