Profile: Priti Patel, who promises to stop asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats

8 Jul

On 24th July 2019 Boris Johnson appointed a woman of Indian descent, born in London to parents who had fled Uganda, to one of the great offices of state.

Two years later, Priti Patel remains Home Secretary, and has introduced the Nationality and Borders Bill, intended to deter illegal entry into the UK, the most conspicuous route being by small boat from France.

On Tuesday, Patel told readers of The Daily Mail: “This cannot go on and as Home Secretary I will not allow this to continue.”

By introducing a two-tier system, making those who arrive illegally in the UK far less eligible for asylum and far more liable to be deported, Patel promises she will break the power of the people smugglers.

Henry Hill has examined, for ConHome, how likely these plans are to succeed, but we shall not know for sure until the legislation has been passed, and operated for a reasonable period of time.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, has suggested on this site that trying to send refugees who have arrived illegally in Britain back either to the safe countries through which they have passed, or to their countries of origin, will not work, and will merely increase the already disgraceful backlog of cases.

The Home Office’s administrative record is so poor that one cannot feel much confidence in its ability to clear the backlog. Nor is Patel’s task made easier by the leaking from time to time of implausible proposals said to be under consideration by her department – waves in the Channel, a detention centre in Rwanda or on Ascension Island.

But these obstacles in some ways make Patel’s appointment all the more comprehensible. It is harder for liberal critics to impute racism, or undue severity, to a Home Secretary who herself belongs to an ethnic minority.

And Patel is in any case capable of showing a remarkable imperviousness to argument, as when she defended the death penalty against opposition from Harriet Harman and Ian Hislop in a Question Time debate in 2011, the year after she entered the Commons.

“She’s small and a woman and an Asian – to be heard she has to be quite aggressive,” a parliamentarian who knows her well remarked, and went on:

“She is intolerant of people who disagree with her. I think she does go too far.

“People do like her straight talking. That’s part of her appeal. I’m full of admiration for her. It’s a bloody tough job. She’s still there.”

She might not be there. In February 2020 Sir Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, resigned, claimed he had been “the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign”, and accused Patel of bullying staff.

Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s Independent Advisor on Ministerial Standards, looked into these allegations, and in November 2020 concluded:

“My advice is that the Home Secretary has not consistently met the high standards
required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration
and respect. Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be
described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her
behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.
This conclusion needs to be seen in context. There is no evidence that she was
aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the
time. The high pressure and demands of the role, in the Home Office, coupled
with the need for more supportive leadership from top of the department has
clearly been a contributory factor. In particular, I note the finding of different and
more positive behaviour since these issues were raised with her.”

Johnson, as ultimate arbiter of the Ministerial Code, decided to stand by Patel, and Sir Alex resigned.

When Patel was interviewed by ConHome in 2015, she described how her family lost everything in Uganda, and the death of her mother’s father soon afterwards in India:

“He was a businessman. So he had tea factories, cotton plantations, coffee plantations as well. My grandfather was incredibly well known in Uganda. R.U.Patel, a very pious man, so always giving back to the community, very religious, a big Swaminar in the Hindu community.

“I think the trauma, it was just incredible for my entire family, for my Mum’s family in particular. My Dad’s family were shopkeepers as well. Everyone in that era of East African Asians was hugely displaced, hugely displaced, their rights taken away from them, and they were persecuted for what they had.”

They arrived in Britain with nothing, and set out to rebuild the family fortunes:

“And it was from a people point of view just deeply challenging. You know, hostile, immigrants coming in, really, really difficult. I was born [in 1972] in Islington, in Highbury, and my Mum and Dad rented a room off an elderly man in Finsbury Park, and that’s where we lived.

“Typically in Indian culture, if you’re the eldest you bear the burden of everything else in terms of family responsibility. So my Dad, who’s the eldest, he’s got a brother and two sisters, did the right thing, he had to think about looking after his Mum and Dad and his brother and sisters.

“So my Dad dropped out of university to just get a job, basically, to get cash wherever he could, low-skilled work, just to build up pots of money to get some security. So he then helped my grandfather, his Dad, to buy a shop in Tottenham, Number One, White Hart Lane.

“That was a newsagent. That gave my grandparents the footing to get on. My Dad became a shopkeeper as well. My parents have been self-employed like that for over 40 years. So I effectively grew up on top of a shop for most of my life. So we’ve done everything from newspapers to post offices to small supermarkets.”

Patel grew up with Thatcherite assumptions. Her father rose at four in the morning every day for 40 years and built up a chain of newsagents despite unfair competition from the established chains, who saw to it that independent competitors got the papers too late to be sure of delivering them in time for breakfast.

She went to Watford Grammar School, studied economics at Keele and politics at Essex University, became a devout Eurosceptic as well as Thatcherite, joined the Conservative Party in 1991, from 1995-97 was head of press for the Referendum Party, but rejoined the Conservatives as a press officer under William Hague, and also worked for several years in public relations.

At the 2005 general election she stood for the Conservatives in the safe Labour seat of Nottingham North. Early in David Cameron’s leadership she was placed on the A list of candidates, and in 2006 she put in for the newly created seat of Witham, in Essex.

The finalists for what was going to be a safe Conservative seat included Geoffrey Van Orden, who was already an MEP and had served as a brigadier at Nato, James Brokenshire, whose seat of Hornchurch was going to be abolished, and Patel, who looked like an outsider.

There was an open primary, and Baroness Jenkin, who was in the audience of about 200 people and in 2005 had co-founded Women2Win with Theresa May, recalls that when Patel started to speak, “It was very clear straight away that she appealed to Conservatives but also to people who weren’t Conservatives.”

Patel, who had begun to wonder whether she would be selected anywhere, was the unexpected victor, and on arriving at Westminster said in her maiden speech:

“My own deep and personal interest in what I call the economics of enterprise and small business stems from my family background…my youth was literally spent sleeping above the shop and playing directly under the till, while watching my family—thanks to the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher—thrive and grow. Wherever my parents set up shop, they employed local people, contributed to the local community, and made a substantial contribution to the local economy.”

Along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, she wrote Britannia Unchained, published in 2011 and somewhat critical of the British attitude to work:

“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

Harsh words, but four of the five authors are now in the Cabinet. Perhaps this is a more Thatcherite administration than has yet been noticed by the pundits.

Patel rose swiftly, in 2015 becoming Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions,  and in 2016 backing Leave in the referendum campaign and Theresa May for the leadership, who rewarded her with the post of International Development Secretary.

But Patel had already displayed a marked capacity for annoying some of those around her. Here is Sasha Swire in her diary entry for 12 November 2015:

“Modi comes to town. Priti Patel has been inserting herself into this trip at every turn. As the PM’s Indian Diaspora Champion she does have a role, but she is behaving like the Minister for India, which is actually what Hugo [Sasha’s husband] is. Sure enough, she turns up at the VIP suite to greet Modi. She has also done all the press that morning, at Craig Oliver’s insistence, and got herself invited to a small lunch with the Queen when we were told no ministers were invited. H has thrown a wobbly…”

Sir Alan Duncan is even less complimentary in his diaries, in which she is variously referred to as Priti Horrendous, Priti Outrageous, Priti Appalling, Priti Frightful and Priti Unspeakable. In his entry for 23 January 2017 we read:

“They hate Priti Patel in DfID, mainly because she seems to hate all of them.”

Patel came a cropper at DfID when it was revealed in November 2017 that she had held a series of meetings with senior Israeli figures without informing the Foreign Office, or indeed the Prime Minister. A senior Tory backbencher and former minister described this episode to ConHome as “absolutely disgraceful”, and after a much publicised flight home from Africa, some not entirely candid statements about whom she had seen in Israel, and two meetings with May, she was obliged to resign.

In July 2019, Johnson put her back in the Cabinet in the altogether more senior role of Home Secretary. Here she has developed, presumably at his behest, a more stringent immigration policy than liberal opinion would wish.

Lord Lexden, official historian of the Conservative Party, yesterday reminded ConHome that the choice between being stringent and liberal about immigration is by no means new:

“As is well known, Tory Home Secretaries have to choose between offending much of their party and alienating the complacent lefties who always seem to be in the ascendant at the Home Office.

“Perhaps no holder of the post pleased the Party more, or attracted more derision from bien pensants, than Sir William Joynson-Hicks, known as Jix, who served throughout the five years of Baldwin’s dominant second cabinet of 1924-9. He detested short sentences, and thought prisons should be the permanent homes of the irredeemably wicked.

“His proudest boast, however, was to have stemmed ‘the tide pouring in here to secure better conditions than can be obtained in their own lands’. He visited the Channel ports amid great publicity, and looked into immigration control arrangements in minute detail.

“Afterwards, he told the Commons that ‘few aliens crept through the net that stretched round the coast, and that most of those who evaded the net were subsequently discovered and deported.’ Priti Patel must take heart from Jix’s success a century ago.”

Howard Flight: The Lords have tabled key amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Bill

2 Nov

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

British in Europe has persuaded peers to propose three amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Bill.

The first would prevent the removal of the existing right of UK citizens who moved to the EEA to return with families they have established there. The second and third amendments are to prevent the Bill’s regulation-making powers from being used to breach the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The main amendment is to preserve the right of UK Nationals living in the EEA and Switzerland, who return to live in the UK in the future, to then bring with them or to be joined by non-British family members on the same terms as have applied up until now.

If the Bill is not amended, British citizens who moved to the EU/EEA while the UK was a member will lose their right to return to their country of birth with a non-British partner or children unless they can meet financial conditions beyond the reach of many. If they need to return to look after and elderly parent, they will have to choose between either returning alone and leaving their families behind, or abandoning their parent to stay with their non-British family in the EEA.

The problem arises because the Government is using the end of free movement to make these British citizens meet, for the first time, “the minimum income requirement” for family reunion. The MIR has been criticised both because the level is high, which 40 per cent of UK workers would not be able to reach; and because of the Catch 22 rule that the non-British partners income can only be taken into account if they have been working in the UK for 6 months. But how do they get into the UK to work if they cannot satisfy the MIR?

It is doubly unfair to apply the MIR to this group of British citizens where the change is retrospective. When they left their homes in the UK to move to the EU/EEA they were safe in the knowledge that if they established a family while abroad, they would be able to bring them back to Britain. The parents they left behind had the same expectations.

The rules also lead to the perverse result that the Government’s approach involves discrimination against its own citizens. While British citizens who moved to the EU/EEA before the end of 2020 have these new restrictions; EU citizens who moved to the UK before the end of 2020 will not. They will have the right under the Withdrawal Agreement to bring existing family members to the UK for life, as well as keeping their existing right to return to their country of origin with families they have made in the UK.

The Government’s response is that they have allowed 15 months from the end of transition to return with families to the UK. For many their plans to return to the UK are in retirement, well beyond 15 months.

The other two amendments are designed to ensure that the power created can only be used in a way consistent with the UK’s obligations under the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement. Clause 4 of the Bill enables regulations to be made to amend earlier primary legislation. The UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement is incorporated in UK law by the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) at 2018 as amended. It follows that, as drafted, the Clause 4 power enables the Secretary of State, by regulation, to modify the application of the Withdrawal Agreement in the UK.

The Withdrawal Agreement is the vital underpinning of the rights created in UK law for UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living here. It is thus a matter of constitutional concern that the Agreement should have the maximum possible legal protection. As far as immigration is concerned, it underpins the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme for British citizens in the UK and is thus essential, for both EU citizens in the UK and British nationals in the EU, that the Withdrawal Agreement remains sacrosanct. Where any proposed legislation might be seen as breach of the Withdrawal Agreement, the decision as to whether it does so should be a matter for Parliament to consider through primary legislation.

The second amendment to Clause 5 is to ensure that the power created by this clause can only be used in ways which are consistent with the UK’s obligations under the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The three aspects of this legislation to British citizens covered by the Withdrawal Agreement are the continued right of UK State Pensioners living in the EU to receive their pensions and any pension increases and the continued right of pensioners to healthcare under the “SI Scheme”, which enables a pensioner living in a country which is not responsible for their pensions to receive healthcare in their county of residence at the expense of the country where they paid their pension contributions.

It applies to British pensioners living in the EU and vice versa, and allows those who have worked in the UK and one or more EU countries have their contributions aggregated so as not to fall foul of National rules on minimum contribution periods.Unless this amendment is made it would be possible for a Government, by regulation alone, to modify these vital provisions, in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement. This amendment is necessary to prevent Governments acting in breach of an international Treaty in connection with social security provision.

Gary Sambrook: The Government is delivering on its promises to reform Britain’s broken immigration system

22 Oct

Gary Sambrook is the Conservative MP for Birmingham Northfield.

For many years, members of the public have repeatedly asked politicians to reform our broken immigration system and introduce an Australian-style points based one. In constituencies like mine people were tired of MPs talking tough, and delivering little change. But from January 1 we will have that new points-based system, which will be firm but fair. Today the Home Secretary has set out new measures which will introduce new tougher rules for EU citizens at the border, in line with existing rules for non-EU citizens.

This parity will send a clear message to British people that this Home Secretary means business.

When I talk to people in my constituency, which returned a Conservative MP last year for the first time in 27 years, they are concerned about crime and safety in their communities. That’s why replacing these softer EU rules with stronger border controls will make the UK a safer place and fulfil our pledge to deliver on the people’s priorities.

EU rules currently require the Home Office to demonstrate that EU criminals present a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society (these include social harm, maintaining public order, and extremism) in order to restrict their free movement rights. This decision cannot be based solely on the criminal conviction, even if it was for murder or rape.

These new rules will mean:

  • Foreign criminals sentenced to at least a year in jail will be banned from entering the UK.
  • Foreign criminals sentenced to less than a year in jail could still be banned, with the Home Office considering on a case-by-case basis their full criminal history and whether they have ties to the UK such as family members.
  • Foreign criminals who haven’t received a prison sentence could also be banned from entering the UK if they have committed persistent sexual offences, or committed a crime and want to enter the UK for the first time

It is absolutely right that we take these tough measures to help keep our streets safe, reduce crime and bring trust back into the immigration system.

EU rules have forced us to allow dangerous foreign criminals, who abuse our values and threaten our way of life, onto our streets for far too long, and people have had enough.

Regardless of nationality these rules will mean the UK is safer thanks to firmer and fairer border controls where foreign criminals will be treated the same, no matter what country they originate from.

An example of where these tough new rules will help keep the UK safe. Person A is a non-resident EU citizen with a conviction for rape in 2010 where they were sentenced to eight years in prison. Today, they could be admitted to the UK because they have not offended since and it can’t be demonstrated that they currently pose a present and sufficiently serious threat to society as required under EU law. However, next year, they can be refused entry to the UK because they have had a custodial sentence of at least a year.

Or another example: Person B is a non-EU citizen with numerous convictions for low-level offending over a period of years. Under the current rules, discretion can be exercised to grant them entry, but under the new rules, as a persistent offender, they would be refused entry to from the UK.

Not only is the Government making the UK border safer and more secure, it is providing the police with more powers to protect the public in new powers granted by the Extradition Act. It gives them the power to detain international criminals without having to apply for a UK arrest warrant first.

As Parliament nears the end of its scrutiny of the Immigration Bill, it is crucial that we remember why we are introducing this new system. Last year the people of the United Kingdom gave us a clear, and substantial, mandate for change. Leaving the European Union, as many of us have made the case before, will give us an opportunity to do things differently and there is no clearer example than immigration.

The British public can be assured that this Prime Minister, and Home Secretary, get it. And are delivering on those promises.