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Why isn’t Labour standing up to Suella Braverman over refugee deportations?

It’s clear from Rachel Reeves’s comments that Labour plans to abandon the progressive approach taken under Jeremy Corbyn

Benali Hamdache
Wednesday 05 October 2022 16:41 BST
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Rachel Reeves calls for deportations to be ramped up

When Suella Braverman took to the stage of the Conservative Party conference yesterday and delivered her vision, her charter of cruelty placed her firmly as the furthest right home secretary we’ve seen in a long time, and won her a standing ovation from Conservative members.

Her speech served the Tory base all the red meat they love. Attacks on trans people, refugees, migrants, immigration lawyers, environmentalists and campaigners. A vision that will systematically dismantle and oppress the rights of minorities.

Priti Patel’s popularity slipped with Tory members after she failed to implement illegal measures to prevent refugees coming to the UK. Braverman promised to close the English Channel, send refugees to Rwanda and trample the laws protecting them. There was little detail on how – but a terrifying amount of determination to make it happen.

In effect, her speech promised to end the right to asylum in this country. Over the last 12 years of Tory rule, nearly every safe route for refugees has been closed down, including even the Dubs Amendment for unaccompanied child refugees. In absence of safe routes and criminalising non-authorised routes, Braverman is closing the door to nearly every refugee.

Labour’s response from Rachel Reeves was nearly as bad. When asked to respond, she failed to stand up for the rights of refugees. Instead, she criticised the Tories for not deporting refugees quickly enough, and gave no defence of the legal and social norms Braverman was threatening to trample over.

It’s increasingly clear that Labour plans to abandon the progressive approach taken under Jeremy Corbyn. Yvette Cooper as shadow home secretary has made no principled defence of the rights of refugees today. If Labour cannot do this when they are 33 points ahead in the polls, when will they?

The collective political hardening against migrants and refugees comes at a strange time. Public support for immigration has surged. The British Social Attitudes Survey found only 20 per cent of the public said migration was bad for the economy, whilst 50 per cent said it was a net positive. YouGov’s most important issues tracker puts immigration as the public’s 4th most important issue, far behind the economy and health, and just behind the environment. Meanwhile Homes for Ukraine demonstrated the huge generosity of many Brits, with over 200,000 registering.

Labour and the Conservatives just aren’t where the public are. The window for a new narrative on refugees has opened up, but the leaders of the two parties aren’t stepping up. We have to look elsewhere.

Just under 29,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the English Channel so far this year – a 0.04 per cent increase in the UK population. Yet the level of panicked reporting in certain sections of the media is disproportionate and irresponsible. It has fuelled these nightmarish proposals from Braverman. We need a humane and common sense alternative.

Civic society is filling the void. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has said “we don’t need parties competing on hostility towards migrants”. Refugee Action is clear that Braverman’s proposals are “a blatant breach of the international refugee laws the UK helped create in the first place”. The Refugee Council said that “the proposals in this speech are deeply worrying and out of step with the majority of the public”.

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I joined the Green Party back in 2012 because of their crystal-clear policies on refugees and migrants. As a son of a migrant, they mattered to me. I’m proud the Green movement internationally has always welcomed refugees, from the German Greens welcoming Syrian refugees to the Australian Greens fighting offshore detention.

A fairer and kinder process for refugees and migrants is entirely possible – it just needs political courage. We can scrap the Rwandan refugee deal, an unbelievable cruelty. We can demolish the hostile environment policies that fuelled the Windrush scandal. We can end the appalling conditions we leave asylum seekers in. I’m sure we can defeat Braverman’s latest proposals in the courts and in the court of public opinion. Through demonstrations, legal action and eventually the power of our vote.

Whilst Braverman dreams of deporting refugees to Rwanda, I’m fighting for us to work together with our European neighbours to save lives. Opening safe authorised routes for refugees to claim asylum is the best way to shut down people smugglers. It’s clear many of the public share the same aspirations. If Labour and the Conservatives don’t act and embrace a more humane approach, many voters will choose to put their support elsewhere.

Benali Hamdache is the Green Party’s spokesperson for migrant and refugee support, and a councillor in Islington

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