Illegal Immigration: Costs — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 11:30 am ar 7 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Ceidwadwyr, Morley and Outwood 11:30, 7 Mai 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the costs associated with illegal immigration.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and I thank Members across the House for their support, including the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend Suella Braverman; the former Immigration Minister, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick; and Jim Shannon, who co-sponsored the debate.

For too long, this House has avoided addressing the issue that, according to YouGov’s latest polling, ranks among the electorate as the second most important issue facing our country, surpassed only by the economy. We are facing an immigration and asylum crisis in the UK, and we as parliamentarians need to find a solution, get a grip of the problem, and win back public trust in our ability to represent the interests of the British people and to legislate and govern on their behalf. Too many of my colleagues across the House have been reluctant to discuss the real consequences of illegal immigration for our society, culture and security, for fear of being denounced as racist by a loud liberal minority in influential positions in the mainstream media, academia and powerful non-governmental organisations, whose progressive agenda dominates public discourse, or even by fellow Members of Parliament. Only this week, the civil service unions mounted a legal challenge to try to stop the Government’s Rwanda policy.

All those people and organisations need to wake up to reality: the British public have had enough, and they demand action from our politicians. Illegal immigration represents an existential threat to our society, culture and security, and cracking down on the issue must be a top priority. This matter should transcend political divides. It is a matter of national importance, and as legislators we have a duty to the British people to address it. It affects every corner of our country. Throughout this debate, I will highlight the astronomical costs of illegal immigration for the economy and wider society, and suggest action that we should take to reduce the total number of illegal immigrants arriving on our shores.

The House of Commons Library report for this debate takes issue with the use of the term “illegal immigrant” to refer to those crossing the channel in small boats. It notes:

“A person might enter the country without permission, but they have the legal right to be here while their claim for asylum or admissibility to the asylum system is being considered.”

The report therefore opts to use the phrase “unauthorised migrants” and, when referencing the cost of illegal immigration, includes only those who are subsequently refused asylum and remain in the UK without permission. If we had a fully functioning asylum system and the public had confidence that the decisions being taken were accurate, that distinction would of course be right and proper, but right now this methodology is deeply flawed. Irregular border crossings have skyrocketed in the past decade, with smugglers now preferring to conduct an amphibious assault on our borders rather than shoving people into the backs of lorries to go via the channel tunnel, which was previously the more common route. Those clandestine groups have caught on to the fact that Britain’s asylum system is on its knees. They know that anyone who arrives in Britain and claims asylum is afforded protections and benefits at the taxpayer’s expense.

There are numerous cases of people with pending asylum applications who have lived in Britain for years, many of whom choose to use loopholes in our human rights laws to bolster their applications. That is something that the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, understands all too well. Let us not forget how, as a human rights barrister, he acted for Islamic cleric Abu Qatada in his bid to avoid deportation. He also helped an Iraqi terrorist suspect sue the Government over breaches of the suspect’s human rights.

We have seen people use loopholes such as a sudden desire to convert to Christianity, knowing full well that their applications will be approved, because their conversion shows they would be persecuted back in their claimed countries of origin. Speaking of countries of origin, we simply have no idea where the vast majority of those who arrive without permission and claim asylum are actually from, making it impossible to determine their application.

A Home Office response to a freedom of information request by Migration Watch UK in 2022 revealed that, of the 16,510 small boat migrants to land in Britain from 2018 up to the second quarter of 2021, just 317 arrived with a passport; that is just 1.92%. The total number of arrivals has since risen to nearly 120,000 people since 2018, with no indication that these people have started to make a concerted effort to provide immigration officials with the necessary documentation to confirm their identity. That is the equivalent of a town the size of Watford, comprising a vast majority of adult males, arriving without documentation, who are not forthcoming with their age or country of origin—leaving immigration officials playing a guessing game on who to believe. Home Office figures show that 94% apply for asylum. Yet, according to the Library research briefing on asylum statistics published on 1 March, our annual refusal rate for asylum applications at initial decision has plummeted from 88% down to an astonishing 24% in 2022; three quarters of those refused at initial decision between 2004 and 2021 lodged an appeal, and a third of those appeals were successful.

Some may qualify such a rapid decrease in asylum refusal rates by claiming that there is more conflict in the world today than there was 20 years ago, but that just does not stand up. There were endless conflicts at the time when we were refusing nearly 90% of all asylum applications, from civil wars in Somalia, Sri Lanka, Chad, Yemen and Niger—to name but a few—to the Iraq war and Russia’s invasion of Georgia. The evidence can only lead us to one conclusion: our asylum system is being gamed by people with the help of ever stronger smuggling gangs. They know what to say, and they know what to do to tick the right boxes and be granted permission to stay in Britain. We are faced with a record asylum backlog.

Home Office figures show that 74,172 initial decisions on asylum applications were made last year alone. That is four times the number made in 2022. The Government will argue that this is due to the increase in decision makers; their own figures show an increase in those reviewing applications from 865 in 2022 to 1,281 in March 2023, which is an increase of 48%. But 62,336 of those 74,000 initial decisions were successful—a record annual figure. That raises huge questions over the handling of those applications and how those decisions have been made.

There is absolutely no doubt that some individuals who arrive in Britain through irregular means and claim asylum are genuine people, fleeing war or persecution. We have a moral responsibility to help those individuals and it is right that we support such people—as we did, for example, when the war broke out in Ukraine—but it is also quite evident that our asylum system has broken down to the point where it is unfit for purpose and exploited on an unprecedented scale. It is therefore simply impossible to discount those granted asylum when conducting a review of the true costs of illegal immigration.

To understand the cost of illegal immigration on our society and our finances, we must first understand the scale of the issue in hand—a task that, by its very nature, is problematic. To again cite the House of Commons Library report prepared for this debate,

“The most recent robust estimates of the size of the unauthorised resident population in the UK put it at around 400,000-600,000 in the early 2000s…More recent but less robust estimates have put the population at between 800,000 and 1.2 million in 2017…It is likely none of these estimates accurately captures the situation in 2024.”

I would be pleased to hear from the Minister on that point. That is equivalent to a city with a population 20% larger than Birmingham, or three times the size of Manchester, living in the UK illegally, utilising the many public-funded services that are available to them, regardless of a person’s immigration status—and it could be far more.

Public services available to illegal migrants include state education, NHS services, including A&E treatment and primary care such as GPs and dentistry appointments, compulsory psychiatric treatment, legal aid, and various local authority support. I receive hundreds of emails a month from constituents telling me that they cannot get a GP appointment, are struggling to find a dentist, and cannot get their first choice school place or a decent roof over their heads. Is there any wonder?

The Government’s impact assessment of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 estimated that the total cost of providing public services to a UK national is around £12,000 per person. Even the most basic calculations put the economic burden on the British taxpayer of an illegal migration population of 1.2 million at £14.4 billion. That is just shy of 10% of NHS England’s budget for this year. Imagine that cash injection on frontline services or to help people who are struggling with the cost of living.

There is not just an economic cost; indirect consequences of illegal migration are inevitable, including wage suppression. Those without permission to work legally in Britain must find a way to support themselves and they end up working in the gig economy for unscrupulous business owners, who offer lower wages that are accepted, because illegal workers will take what they can get—for which we cannot blame them.

In addition, the Home Office expects to spend £482 million on immigration enforcements this year alone, and the costs related to the Rwanda scheme continue to pile up to an eyewatering amount. It is important to note that none of the costs mentioned so far takes into account those associated with our broken asylum system, such as the nearly £8 million a day currently used to house asylum applicants. Home Office figures cited by the Financial Times in August last year showed that the annual asylum cost reached £3.96 billion in the year up to 2023—double that of the previous year and six times higher than 2018. Yet, despite that astronomical cost, we continue to increase handouts to France to stop the boats. I would like to hear what the Minister thinks of our agreement with France; to those on the outside it looks like it is not working, and taxpayers’ money is being wasted.

A House of Commons Library report showed that the UK Government gave a combined £232 million to the French authorities for border control in their own country, between 2014 to the end of the 2022-23 financial year. Under the joint leaders’ declaration agreed in March that year, we have committed to give more than double that—£476 million over the next two financial years. I think we should demand a refund from France. The economic costs are endless. It is simply impossible to quantify the true impact of this issue on the public purse. It is clear to me, and a vast majority of the British public, that this is a totally unacceptable state of affairs.

It is not just about the economic cost; there is also a human cost. Seven-year-old Emily Jones from Bolton was stabbed to death by an Albanian national, Eltiona Skana, while riding her scooter in March 2020. I am a parent of a seven-year-old—imagine what that family must be going through. Her killer was a paranoid schizophrenic who arrived in Britain in the back of a lorry in 2014, and was granted asylum, despite twice admitting to lying in her application about being a victim of sexual exploitation.

Lorraine Cox, aged 32, was murdered in Exeter in September 2020 by Azam Mangori, an Iraqi Kurd who was denied asylum in December 2018 but remained living in the country undetected. David Wails, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and James Furlong were murdered in Reading town centre in June 2020 by Libyan national, Khairi Saadallah, just two weeks after he had been released from prison; he executed the men in an act of jihad. He had been granted refugee status, despite participating in the Libyan civil war in 2012. Terence Carney, who was 70, was stabbed to death in the middle of the street by a Moroccan asylum seeker Ahmed Ali Alid in “revenge” for Gaza. I could go on and on. These names should not be forgotten; they must serve as a reminder of the human cost paid for decades of failure by successive Governments and by us as legislators.

I want to talk briefly about the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024, which became law just a few weeks ago. I completely understand the motive and need for such legislation. However, I was one of the 11 Conservative MPs to rebel, including the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham, and the former Immigration Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who simply could not support it. Like me, they had great reservations that the Bill would not be legally watertight and would be derailed by political opponents, activist lawyers, trade unionists and civil servants, as we saw last week when they mounted a legal challenge.

In principle, though, I am in favour of an offshore processing scheme such as the Rwanda scheme. We need a genuine, robust deterrent to undermine the organised gangs and the abhorrent people smugglers, who sell the dream to migrants that once they have crossed the channel, they will be in a relative utopia with free welfare, healthcare and housing for the rest of their lives. We need to send a clear message that that is not the case.

Those hoping that the current scheme will act as a deterrent will be disappointed to learn that, just last week, 711 migrants landed in Kent in a single day, which is a record daily number for the year so far. So much for that deterrent.

How do we make a scheme like Rwanda work? I am clear that we must leave the European convention on human rights. I have been spearheading the campaign to do just that via the Conservative Post, and I am pleased to say that nearly 50,000 people have now signed the petition. We need, instead, a British Bill of Rights. We also need to stop those leftie lawyers and unionised civil servants from preventing a democratically elected Government from delivering on their manifesto.

I truly believe that having a viable deterrent is a humane, civilised and responsible thing to do and will actually save lives. We must keep at the forefront of our minds that 72 people are believed to have drowned in the English channel since 2018. Each life lost is a tragedy.

Let us remember that Australia faced exactly the same crisis that we have on our hands, and through an effective deterrent reduced the number of illegal migrants on their shores from tens of thousands to zero. It is time we rolled up our sleeves and did the same.

We must also get tougher on the illegal migrants who have already arrived and live here. As the Home Office’s impact assessment makes clear, of the 5,700 illegal immigrants who have been identified for removal, the Home Office is in contact with just 2,000—just 38%. I would like to know from the Minister why that is the case. It is not just not good enough; it is a dereliction of the Government’s primary duty to keep citizens safe. Such a potential security breach and locating those individuals must be an absolute priority for the Home Office, as should be implementing measures to ensure that it can never happen again. We need to think radically about how to keep oversight of these people while they wait for a decision.

For too long, the UK has been seen as a free lunch: study, work, marry and smuggle your way in and soon you are guaranteed a lifelong, all-you-can-eat buffet for you and your extended family, with free healthcare, free education, free housing, free social care, legal protections and access to one of the largest charitable sectors in the world. It is unfair to continue to ask the British taxpayer to pick up this bill. We must take a no-nonsense approach to demonstrate that the British state is no longer a soft touch. Other measures could also be adopted, with legislation and procedures similar to those used by European countries, where approval rates are far lower than in Britain. We approve far too many asylum requests when we compare our acceptance rate to the 25% to 30% common across most of Europe. Our legal system and the Home Office guidance on asylum applications make it far too easy for those seeking to try their luck.

The damage that the issue of illegal migration is doing on our country is untold. It is impossible to quantify. The British public know. They see it and they feel it. It is substantial, and they want it resolved. The ordinary Brit, certainly in my part of the world, is decent and fair-minded. They believe in the value of work and the desire to get on in life. On the whole, they are tolerant of others and show respect for different cultures. However, they are also instilled with the great British principle of fair play, and illegal immigration on this scale is simply at conflict with that principle.

In conclusion, I suggest a five-point plan that we must immediately action to start getting this crisis under control. First, we need to profoundly strengthen our border security. We need to invest in technology, personnel and infrastructure to enhance surveillance and patrol efforts along our coastline, and we must have the political will to use this technology to enforce a stricter border policy.

Secondly, we need to get tough on our so-called international partners to address the underlying drivers of illegal migration and deter the crossings in the first place, as it puts people’s lives at risk when they try these dangerous crossings. We should be clear: no more money to France unless they play ball and work more effectively in stopping departures from their own shores.

Thirdly, we need to streamline and improve our immigration processes. We need to process asylum claims far more efficiently and effectively, and ensure that applicants do not go AWOL while waiting for a decision. We can use a tagging system for that. We also need to introduce measures to dissuade people from attempting illegal crossings. That means imposing stricter penalties for smugglers, which I am sure people across the House would agree with, and implementing public awareness campaigns to educate potential migrants about the risks, dangers and consequences of irregular migration. It may also mean thinking creatively about how to charge migrants for the public services that they use while they are here—we have to stop everything being from the taxpayer’s purse. Finally, we must also strengthen the Rwanda deterrent by leaving the European convention on human rights, which is the only way to ensure it will work in the way that the British public expect. Alternatively, let us as the Conservative party commit to holding a referendum on leaving the ECHR—let the public decide.

The Government need to move quickly. We have just six months to get tough. The Labour party said only last week that if they got into power, they would consider giving automatic asylum to 50,000 of those people waiting for a decision. That is a way to remove them from the books and make the figures look good. They also want to ditch our Rwanda scheme. I would not expect to go to another country illegally, be put up in a hotel and get free healthcare and all the other benefits at no cost to myself. This needs to stop. We also need to stop that pull factor, as that is why people come here. We need to put an end to the soft-touch Britain and toughen up for the future of our great country. I look forward to hearing views from Members of all parties, which no doubt will differ from mine.