Here’s a round-up of today’s news as Rishi Sunak told parliament that he has agreed a deal with Albania that he hopes will tackle the number of small boats arriving on English shores.
Sunak has said that he will end a backlog of nearly 100,000 asylum claims by the end of 2023, as part of an attempt to reform the UK’s immigration system.
The prime minister unveiled a five-point plan including changes to the law that will criminalise and remove tens of thousands of people who claim asylum after travelling to the UK by small boat.
An agreement with Albania means the process of returning people to the Balkan country will be sped up. The “vast majority” of asylum claims could be declared as “clearly unfounded”, he said.
A small boats command will be formed, with 700 new staff from Border Force, the National Crime Agency and other agencies, to try to stop people smuggling. Sunak said the number of immigration raids will increase.
Asylum seekers will no longer be housed in hotels, but instead will be sent to disused former military bases, holiday camps and student accommodation.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “gimmick”, and that money is being “wasted” on a plan to deport people to Rwanda.
Former prime minister Theresa May said she is concerned the plans will undermine protection for victims of modern slavery.
Amnesty International said Sunak was “scapegoating” asylum seekers. Its refugee and migrant rights director said: “[Sunak] he either doesn’t have a clue or frankly does not care”.
The Refugee Council said it is “deeply disturbing [and] flies in the face of international law”.
In other news
Conservative party MP Adam Afriyie says he will not resign after being declared bankrupt.
The latest MRP poll by Savanta gives the Labour party a 314 seat majority, and would reduce the Conservative party to an unprecedented rump of 69 seats in the House of Commons.
The government has agreed to an independent review of the impact on requiring voters to present photo ID at polling stations at the local elections in May 2023.
The Electoral Reform Society said the voter ID plans “put free and fair elections in 2023 at risk”.
Ministers have been accused of writing a “blank cheque” for Boris Johnson’s legal bills over partygate.
Here’s our story for this evening. Thank you for following along.
Voter ID is likely to be in effect for May’s local elections after a vote in the House of Lords was passed by peers.
An amendment from the Lib Dems which would have killed off the bill was defeated by 63 votes to 210. Meanwhile Labour withdrew their motion of “regret”, after communities minister Lady Scott said there would be an independent review of its impact on May’s local elections, which will be published before November 2023.
Scott indicated that it would be public before a general election that is likely to take place in late 2024.
Lady Pinnock, who tabled the Lib Dem motion said: “British people have just lost their unobstructed right to vote. This is nothing short of voter suppression by the Conservative government.
“Thousands of people likely won’t realise this until they turn up to the ballot box.”
A division is taking place on the Lib Dem amendment in the House of Lords on a new law that would require voters to show photo ID at polling stations.
The Lib Dem motion would be fatal to the bill and stop it passing altogether. My colleague Andrew Sparrow wrote a good post on it earlier on today (see 17:07).
Labour has already secured an independent review into the impact of voter ID on turn-out at the 2023 local elections. This would be ahead of a potential general election which the new laws could be in place for.
Summing up and calling a vote, Lady Kath Pinnock said: “My concern is about the election itself, I am in favour of reviews, learning from experience.
“What I am concerned about, and many members across the house are concerned, that no elector should be refused their birthright to vote because of implementation of these regulations in a rushed manner.
“People who are turned away from their vote should not be turned away from voting. I have not heard anything to assure me that the elections and every voter will be able to vote in a fair way in the May elections.”
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, has said Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “abolish” the asylum backlog by the end of 2023 (see 1.30pm) is “already falling apart”.
After Downing Street appeared to downgrade the target set by the prime minister by saying it only applied to claims made before June, the Labour MP said: “The prime minister doesn’t even know what he’s promised today.
“This claim to be able to tackle the backlog by the end of the year is already falling apart just hours after he made it.”
There are 92,601 applications in the category, according to the prime minister’s spokesperson.
Cooper added: “No one trusts the Conservatives to fix the asylum system they’ve broken over the last 12 years.”
SNP claims Tories and Labour both engaged in 'race to right' on asylum
The SNP claims that both Labour and the Tories are engaged in a “race to the right” on asylum. This is from Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s justice and immigration spokesperson.
Watching both the prime minister and Keir Starmer attempt to outdo one another with intolerant, rightwing rhetoric show’s exactly why Scotland needs independence.
The SNP, and the people of Scotland, want no part in this deplorable race to the right.
Instead of offering a humane and compassionate response to those fleeing war-torn countries or facing persecution, both the Tories and Labour remain hell-bent on playing up to their extreme Brexit and borders-obsessed wings.
That’s all from me for tonight. My colleague Harry Taylor is taking over now.
Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems urge Welsh Labour government to consider using its tax-raising powers
Opposition parties in Wales have called on the Welsh government to consider raising the rate of income tax to combat the “perfect storm” of financial pressures it is facing.
During a debate on the Labour government’s draft budget, the finance minister Rebecca Evans said the economy and public services were fragile but announced spending plans aimed at protecting the most vulnerable.
Evans said an extra £165m is being allocated for NHS Wales to help protect frontline services and an additional £227m is being provided to local government to help safeguard the services delivered by councils, including schools.
The draft budget also provides an additional £18.8m for the discretionary assistance fund, which provides lifeline emergency cash payments to people facing financial hardship and about £70m will be provided to increase the pay of social care workers.
This is a budget in hard times, which will help to protect frontline public services as far as we can in the face of a perfect storm of financial pressures.
Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said:
We believe the Welsh government needs to look at using the income tax powers it has available. We realise this isn’t a cost-free or pain-free option but we are in a time of crisis and we campaigned for those powers so we could avail ourselves of them at times precisely like these.
The leader of the Lib Dems in Wales, Jane Dodds, called on the government to “look at our tax raising powers”, adding: “I would like to see some modelling on how we can look at the upper bands of tax and what that could deliver.”
Mark Drakeford had earlier said the idea of raising taxes “at a time when people cannot buy food and they cannot afford to pay for energy” was “astonishing”.
Here is a Guardian video with highlights from Rishi Sunak’s statement to MPs, and Keir Starmer’s response.
Government agrees to independent review of impact of photo ID law on local elections in bid to avert Lords defeat
In the House of Lords, peers have started debating regulations to bring into force the law requiring voters to present photo ID at polling stations. This will apply for the first time at the English local elections next year.
In an unusual move, the Liberal Democrats have tabled as an amendment a fatal motion – one that would block the regulations.
Lady Scott, a communities minister, opened the debate for the government. Despite reports that electoral administrators are concerned about the impact the new law will have on the local elections in May, she said they were preparing to implement the new rules. Asked why the chair of the Local Government Association, who is a Conservative, is calling for the plans to be abandoned, she said she did not know.
She would know if she had read this story. James Jamieson, the LGA chair, said: “We are concerned that there is insufficient time to do this ahead of the May 2023 elections, and for this reason are calling for the introduction of voter ID requirements to be delayed.”
Scott urged peers to reject the Lib Dem motion. She said it was not usual for peers to reject regulations that were implementing legislation already passed by parliament.
But she sounded more conciliatory about another amendment, tabled by Labour. This would not kill the regulations for good (like the Lib Dem one), but it “regrets” the implementation of the new photo ID rules so quickly and calls for a review of the operation of the rules at the local elections, overseen by a new select committee.
Scott said the government was already committed to a review. If Labour agreed not to push its amendment to a vote, she said the government would agree to conclude this by November 2023, and allow an external agency to produce the report.
During her speech Scott was asked why certain types of photo ID were acceptable for older people but not younger people. The i’s Paul Waugh has a good example.
Scott was unable to answer. She just claimed this matter had been addressed when peers debated the bill.
The debate is still going on, but Labour has welcomed the concession from Scott. Scott said an “external research ag agency” would write the review report, and Labour takes this as meaning the review will be properly independent.
Partygate: ministers accused of writing ‘blank cheque’ for Boris Johnson legal bills
Ministers have been accused of writing a “blank cheque” for Boris Johnson’s legal bills, as it emerged taxpayer-funded support was being extended to help defend him against claims he misled parliament over Partygate, my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports.
No 10 says Sunak's pledge to eliminate asylum claims backlog only relates to ones made before June
One of the bolder claims in Rishi Sunak’s statement was that the government expected to “abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions by the end of next year”. (See 1.30pm.)
But at afternoon lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said this pledge only related to claims made before June this year, when the Nationality and Borders Act came into force. There were 92,601 claims in that category, he said.
Asked why Sunak would not commit to reducing the entire backlog, the spokesperson said:
It wouldn’t be right to prioritise more recent claims. It would be right to focus on legacy claims that predate the introduction of the Act
Sunak's asylum plans condemned by campaigners as 'deeply disturbing' and against international law
Organisations that campaign on behalf of refugees have strongly condemned the plans announced by Rishi Sunak today.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said:
Without safe routes [asylum seekers] have no choice but to take dangerous journeys.
The prime minister failed to set out any concrete plans to expand these routes through a resettlement programme or an expansion in family reunion visas.
Instead this government wants to treat people who come to the UK in search of safety as illegal criminals.
This is deeply disturbing, flies in the face of international law and the UK’s commitment as a signatory of the UN convention on refugees to give a fair hearing to people who come here in search of safety and protection.
Many people from Albania face real danger and persecution – we must not turn our backs on them or any other nationality seeking asylum.
And Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom From Torture, said:
The backlog in asylum decision making is an inexcusable administrative failure but instead of taking the opportunity to fast-track grants for clearly well-founded claims to clear the backlog, the prime minister is recycling unethical and unworkable gimmicks.
Fast-tracking refusals and removals based solely on nationality or method of arrival is a dangerous, one-size-fits-all repackaging of a policy that risks breaching our international obligations to protect refugees …
As we know from our work with torture survivors, signs of persecution can often be hidden, complex and difficult to identify.
It is crucial that all claimants receive individualised assessments and are given adequate legal advice and access to appeal to ensure nobody is returned to face torture or even death due to bad decision-making.
In its response to Rishi Sunak’s statement, Amnesty International UK said it was “littered with errors of both law and fact”. (See 2.05pm.) Asked to say what these were, a spokesperson said that Sunak spoke about people coming to the UK illegally, when they were “exercising their entirely legitimate right to seek asylum in the UK”; that he said people were cheating the system, when they were making legitimate claims for asylum; and that he said they were breaking the rules, when they were “exercising their rights by the only means the UK system permits – because it requires claims to be made in the UK and provides no visa for anyone to make a journey for that purpose”. The spokesperson added: “These are profound errors of fact and law.”
Rishi Sunak told officials at the National Crime Agency, which will play a leading role in his new Small Boats Operational Command (see 1.30pm), that tackling Channel crossings was a “massive priority”. He said:
I’ve made it a priority of mine to make announcements on how we’re going to do that and you guys are a big part of that so thank you for the work you’re already doing,” he said.
One of the things we said today was getting you extra resources so we can increase your upstream activity disrupting organised crime in Europe, which you do brilliantly.
Sunak also said the government wanted to learn from the success of the measures taken to stop people entering the UK irregularly in the back of lorries.
In conversation with one official, who said he had worked on an investigation into the use of the vehicles to bring people across the border, Sunak said:
Well on that, we’ve done a very good job of actually over the past few years. We need to kind of learn from that experience and apply that to the small boats side.
Nimco Ali, a former adviser to the Home Office, has explained that she quit because she could not work with a home secretary who described people seeking refuge in the UK as invaders. Writing for the Evening Standard today, she has said:
When Suella Braverman referred to the refugee crisis as an invasion I knew there was no way I could work with her, nor could I keep quiet about this dark path the government seeks to continue.
I had been an adviser to her Home Office, but no longer.
Words are powerful. I have been raised to remember that before you spit out words from your mouth, think first. What you say can never be taken back and forgotten.
Ali was appointed an independent adviser by the home secretary Priti Patel, who herself pursued aggressive policies aimed at deterring people from seeking refuge in the UK; portraying them as “economic migrants”, rather than people she would accept were in genuine distress, and trying to force through the Rwanda deportation policy.
But the social activist wrote:
Being mindful of what you say as a politician is critical to our democracy. Over the last few years, I have given certain people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to stupid jokes. But sadly now we must admit that the desire to garner headlines with outlandish claims and policies untethered from reality is corroding our political system and impacting the lives of millions.
Ali, a friend and confidante of Carrie Johnson and her husband, the former prime minister Boris Johnson, warned the Tories they risk losing voters such as her if they pursue ever more rightwing policies.
Adam Afriyie says he will not quit as Conservative MP after bankruptcy order
Adam Afriyie, the Conservative MP who has been declared bankrupt, says he is standing down at the next election, but will not quit parliament before then.
It is widely assumed that people declared bankrupt cannot serve in parliament. But that only applies when a bankruptcy restrictions order or a debt relief restrictions order is in place, and that does not seem to be the case here.
My colleague Jessica Elgot has the full story.
In an unrelated development – or perhaps not unrelated; Rishi Sunak is clearly hoping that Labour will vote against his proposed new asylum law next year, and that it will function as a wedge issue, with Keir Starmer on one side and a majority of voters on the other – the polling company Savanta has published the results of an MRP poll suggesting that Labour is on course for a 314-seat majority. Yes, that is right; not 314 seats, but a majority of 314.
MRP stands for multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) and it is a polling method that takes conventional voting intention data and uses it to assess what might happen on a constituency by constituency basis by cross-referencing the demographic polling data with what is known about the demographic makeup of particular constituencies. Ever since an MRP poll suggested the Tories were on course to lose their majority in 2017, when conventional polling said the opposite, they have been taken very seriously.
But would the Tories really be reduced to just 69 seats, as the MRP model suggests? Savanta says:
The poll, Savanta’s first MRP since Labour conference and conducted in conjunction with Electoral Calculus, gives Labour a 20pt voting intention lead which, when converted to seats would more than double the number of MPs they currently have in Westminster.
The poll shows that the Conservative party would be likely wiped out in much of the north of England, with the model suggesting that the party would not hold a single seat north of Lincolnshire, while also losing all of the seats in London, and conceding many seats in the south-west to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Martin Baxter, the founder of Electoral Calculus, which worked with Savanta on the data, expresses caution. He says:
This is an interesting poll, because it is the first MRP we have done since the Conservatives slid so far behind Labour, and therefore we have very little to compare it with. MRP results are different to applying uniform national swing (UNS) to the 2019 general election baseline. The UNS prediction would give the Conservatives about 24 more seats than this model.
Previous elections suggests that MRP is usually more accurate than UNS predictions, but we are in uncharted electoral waters and uncertainty is higher than usual.
Rishi Sunak’s statement has now finished. He was on his feet for almost an hour and 40 minutes.
James Grundy (Con) asks Sunak if he agrees that MPs who claim there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker are wrong. Sunak agrees. He says illegal immigration is putting unsustainable pressure on local communities.
Amnesty International accuses Sunak of 'scapegoating' asylum seekers
Amnesty International UK says the PM’s statement shows that “he either doesn’t have a clue or frankly does not care”. In a statement Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty’s refugee and migrants rights director, said:
Sunak speaks of fairness – yet his government has wrecked the UK’s asylum system, doing significant harm to thousands of vulnerable people for no reason other than an attempt to avoid the responsibilities he expects other countries to take.
Fairness means acting on our legal responsibilities, not shamelessly seeking to shirk them. It means respecting people’s rights and recognising their needs, not demonising people to excuse the cruel injustices the government is doing to them.
The announcement today is littered with errors of both law and fact, and if acted upon will make an already disastrous situation created by Sunak’s government’s policies more harmful to people fleeing conflict and persecution while continuing to profit smugglers, traffickers and other abusers.
Instead of scapegoating people seeking asylum, we urgently need the government to completely overhaul its policy, cancel the Rwanda deal, put in place safe routes so fewer desperate people risk their lives and focus on fairly and efficiently deciding the asylum claims the UK receives.
The statement did not specify what Sunak’s “errors” were, but I have asked Amnesty to elaborate, and will post a response when I get one.
UPDATE: See 4.12pm for the Amnesty reply.
Marco Longhi (Con) asks what Sunak will do if he is blocked by the courts?
Sunak says the new law will make it clear that people coming to the UK illegally will have no right to stay.
Again, he sidesteps the question about what he would do if a court were to rule this as being incompatible with the European convention on human rights, or any other treaty to which the UK is party.
Richard Fuller (Con) asks who will be accountable for ensuring these policies are delivered.
Sunak says people will want to see “flights leaving”, and people coming out of hotels, next year. There will be transparent metrics, he says.
Sunak sidesteps questions about whether his plan would require UK to derogate from refugee convention
Joanna Cherry (SNP) asked if the government was going to derogate from any international treaties to implement these plans. Sunak dodged the question. But Sir Edward Leigh (Con) has just said Cherry was right. He says the UK might have to derogate from the refugee convention. Will the UK do that?
Again, Sunak sidesteps the question. He just says he wants to see people removed who arrive in the UK illegally.
Sir Roger Gale (Con) told Rishi Sunak in the Commons that this problem would have to be resolved on a pan-European basis. Sunak said he agreed. He replied:
He is absolutely right, which is why it’s so crucial that in the last few weeks we have not only restarted the Calais Group of European nations meeting, which the home secretary deserves enormous credit for.
She has also put that group on a permanent basis, making sure that we now go further working with Frontex, the European border agency, working towards a UK-EU returns agreement for the first ever time and that is the path forward.
The best way to solve this problem is upstream, working with our allies in northern Europe, and the plans and progress that [Suella Braverman, the home secretary] has made are going to deliver exactly that.
Alison McGovern (Lab) says the backlog of asylum claims is 14 times as high as it was when Labour left office.
Sunak says it is half the size it was when Labour was in office.
Sunak was referring to the figures for the earlier years of the first decade of the century, when asylum applications to the UK were almost double what they are now. This graph, from a recent report from the Tony Blair Institute, highlights the trend.
What Sunak said about how he wants to ensure 'vast majority' of asylum claims from Albanians are rejected
And this is what Rishi Sunak told MPs about the new agreement with Albania, and the new process for dealing with asylum claims from Albanians. He said:
A third of all those arriving in small boats this year – almost 13,000 – are Albanian.
And yet Albania is a safe, prosperous European country.
It is deemed safe for returns by Germany, France, Italy, Sweden.
It is an EU accession country, a Nato ally and a member of the same treaty against trafficking as the United Kingdom.
The prime minister of Albania has himself said there is no reason why we cannot return Albanian asylum seekers immediately.
Last year Germany, France, Sweden all rejected almost 100% of Albanian asylum claims. Yet our rejection rate is just 45%.
That must not continue. So today I can announce a new agreement with Albania - and a new approach.
First, we will embed Border Force officers in Tirana airport for the first time ever, helping to disrupt organised crime and stop people coming here illegally.
Second, we will issue new guidance for our case workers and make it crystal clear that Albania is a safe country.
Third, one of the reasons we struggle to remove people is because they unfairly exploit our modern slavery system.
So we will significantly raise the threshold someone has to meet to be considered a modern slave.
For the first time, we will actually require a case worker to have objective evidence of modern slavery rather than just a suspicion.
Fourth, we have sought and received formal assurances from Albania confirming they will protect genuine victims and people at risk of re-trafficking, allowing us to detain and return people to Albania with confidence and in line with ECAT [European Communities against Trafficking].
As a result of these changes, the vast majority of claims from Albanians can simply be declared “clearly unfounded”.
And those individuals can be swiftly returned.
Lastly, we will change how we process Albanian illegal migrants, with a new dedicated unit expediting cases within weeks, staffed by 400 new specialists.
Over the coming months, thousands of Albanians will be returned home.
And we’ll keep going with weekly flights until all the Albanians in our backlog have been removed.
What Sunak said about five immediate measures being taken to deal with small boats
This is what Rishi Sunak said about the five measures being implemented without legislation to reduce small boat numbers.
Sunak announced the creation of a new small boats operational command. He said:
Our policing of the channel has been too fragmented, with different people, doing different things, being pulled in different directions.
So we will establish a new, permanent, unified Small Boats Operational Command.
This will bring together our military, our civilian capabilities, and the National Crime Agency.
It will coordinate our intelligence, interception, processing, and enforcement.
And use all available technology, including drones for reconnaissance and surveillance, to pick people up and identify and then prosecute more gang-led boat pilots.
We’re adding more than 700 new staff and also doubling the funding given to the NCA for tackling organised immigration crime in Europe.
He said the number of immigration raids will increase.
These extra resources will free up immigration officers to go back to enforcement which, will in turn, will allow us to increase raids on illegal working by 50%.
And it’s frankly absurd that today illegal migrants can get bank accounts which help them live and work here. So we will re-start data sharing to stop this.
He said the government would stop housing asylum seekers in hotels.
It’s unfair and appalling that we are spending £5.5 million every day on using hotels to house asylum seekers.
We must end this.
So, we will shortly bring forward a range of alternative sites such as disused holiday parks, former student halls, and surplus military sites.
We have already identified locations that could accommodate 10,000 people and are in active discussions to secure these and many more.
Our aim is to add thousands of places through this type of accommodation in the coming months - at half the cost of hotels.
At the same time, as we consulted on over the summe, the cheapest and fairest way to solve this problem is for all local authorities to take their fair share of asylum seekers in the private rental sector.
And we will work to achieve this as quickly as possible.
He said the processing of asylym claims would be speeded up, with the intention of getting rid of the backlog by the end of next year.
We need to process claims in days or weeks, not months or years.
So we will double the number of asylum caseworkers.
And we are radically re-engineering the end-to-end process with shorter guidance, fewer interviews, less paperwork and introducing specialist case workers by nationality.
We will also remove the gold plating in our modern slavery system, including by reducing the cooling off period from 45 to 30 days - the legal minimum set out in the ECAT Treaty.
As a result of all these changes, we will triple the productivity of our case workers, and we expect to abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions by the end of next year.
And he said a new agreement with Albania could lead to the “vast majority” of asylum claims from Albania being refused.
As a result of these changes, the vast majority of claims from Albanians can simply be declared “clearly unfounded”.
And those individuals can be swiftly returned.
I will post more on the details of this agreement in a moment.
Simon Clarke, the Tory former levelling up secretary, says this is a key issue for his constituents. If the courts block attempts to remove illegal immigrations, will the government consider derogating from the European convention on human rights?
Sunak says he is confident that the courts will approve his plans.
What Sunak said about proposed new law to stop people arriving in UK illegally remaining in country
Rishi Sunak’s statement is not yet available on the No 10 website, but a text has been sent out to journalists and it is worth publishing large sections of it because of the importance of the details.
The statement contained three sections on policy: a list of five measures that will be implemented quickly; details of an agreement with Albania, and a new process for dealing with asylum claims from Albania; and – most controversially – plans for a new law next year to ban people arriving in the UK illegally from ever claiming asylum here.
This is what Sunak said about the proposed new law.
Early next year we will introduce new legislation to make unambiguously clear that if you enter the UK illegally you should not be able to remain here.
Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe country where your claim for asylum will be considered.
And you will no longer be able to frustrate removal attempts with late or spurious claims or appeals.
And once removed you should have no right to re-entry, settlement, or citizenship.
And furthermore, if our reforms on Albania are challenged in the courts, we will also put them on a statutory footing to ensure the UK’s treatment of Albanian arrivals is no different from that of Germany or France.
The only way to come to the UK for asylum will be through safe and legal routes.
And as we get a grip of illegal migration, we will create more of those routes.
We will work with the UNHCR to identify those most in need so the UK remains a safe haven for the most vulnerable.
And we will introduce an annual quota on numbers set by parliament, in consultation with local authorities to determine our capacity, and amendable in the face of humanitarian emergencies.
Lee Anderson (Con) claims that Labour’s response to the statement shows that it is not living in the real world.
Sunak welcomes what he says. And, focusing on the party politics at the heart of his statement, he challenges Labour to way whether or not it will back the legislation being proposed by the government for next year.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says a Home Office analysis shows that the right to work does not act as a pull factor for asylum seekers. So will the government end the ban on asylum seekers working while their claims are being processed.
Sunak says he will not do that.
Diana Johnson (Lab), chair of the home affairs committee, says she is glad the government is addressing the backlog in dealing with asylum claims.
But she says there is an attrition rate of 46% among staff.
And she says case workers only deal with 1.3 cases a week.
Sunak says a process is in place to increase the productivity to 4 cases per week.
He says the number of small boat arrivals has quadrupled in the past two years.
Processing is slower than we would like, he says. He says that is partly because people exploit the system to make spurious, late claims. He says he hopes Labour supports legislation to address that.
Stephen Flynn, the new SNP leader at Westminster, says no one is illegal. And he says he does not accept that there is such a thing as illegal immigration.
He says many asylum seekers do not have the option of arriving in the UK through a safe route.
Sunak says Flynn is wrong to suggest that legal routes do not exist for asylum seekers. He says the UK is generous and does welcome asylum seekers.
Theresa May suggests she is concerned Sunak's plans might undermine protection for victims of modern slavery
Theresa May, the former Tory PM, says people smuggling and human trafficking are distinct and different crimes, and should not be treated as the same.
And she says modern slavery is a genuine problem. She says nothing should be done to weaken protection for victims of modern slavery.
She is not criticising the plans directly, but she implies that his plans would undermine the legal protection for victims of modern slavery (that she put in place as home secretary).
Sunak says he will not do anything to weaken support for victims of modern slavery.
UPDATE: May said:
Does (the prime minister) agree with me that in dealing with asylum claims, the onus must be on the Home Office to improve its processing?
That contrary to what is said by some commentators, and sadly some members of this House, people-smuggling and human-trafficking are distinct and separate crimes and should not be treated or spoken of as one and that modern slavery is a very real and current threat with too many people brought to this country in to slavery and that we must do nothing to diminish our world-leading protections for the victims of this terrible horrific crime?
Sunak is responding to Starmer.
He says Starmer has voted 36 times against measures to toughen rules on immigration.
The only solution is to stop the boats, he says.
He says the new legislation will make it clear “that if you come here illegally, you cannot stay”.
[Starmer] may want to block laws. We’re going to stop the boats.
Keir Starmer is responding to Sunak.
He says Channel crossings are a serious problem, requiring a serious solution.
We need a Home Office operating effectively, he says.
He says Rishi Sunak sat in the cabinet as “gimmicks” like this were tried before.
He says almost all of the measures proposed in the statement have already been tried.
He says he is in favour of claims being processed more quickly, and people being returned swiftly if their claims fail.
But more needs to be done to disband the criminal gangs. He says a specialist unit should be set up in the National Crime Agency to address this.
And he says the Rwanda plan has been a waste of money. The most senior official in the Home Office has said it is not a deterrent, he says.
He says the last time the government legislated on asylum, it made the system worse. The legislation led to it taking even longer to process claims, he says.
Sunak says the government will go further. Early in the new year it will legislate to ensure that people who arrive in the UK illegally will not be able to claim asylum here.
This is a policy that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, proposed at the Tory conference.
Sunak says people who are removed because they arrive in the UK illegally will not be able to claim asylum in the UK in future from abroad.
He says it will not be easy to do this. But he says this must be done, because the system was designed for a different era.
Sunak says changes to system should lead to 'vast majority' of asylum applications from Albanians being refused
Sunak says almost a third of asylum seekers are from Albania.
But it is a safe and prosperous country, he claims.
He says people will only be able to claim to be victims of modern slavery if there is evidence of this, not just a suspicion of this.
He says this, and other changes, should lead to “the vast majority” of claims from Albania being declared unfounded. People will then be returned quickly.
And he says he wants to ensure all Albanians in the backlog are quickly removed.
He says the government is also committed to starting flights to Rwanda, to send asylum seekers there (under the plan announced when Boris Johnson was PM).
Sunak says he wants to abolish backlog of unprocessed asylum claims by end of next year
Sunak says he will increase the number of officials dealing with claims. He says by the end of next year he expects to abolish the backlog of claims.
Sunak says his third plan is to create more reception sites for asylum seekers, so they do not have to be housed in hotels.
He says he wants to cut the cost of accommodation by half.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, interrupts. He reprimands an MP for taking a photograph in the chamber.
Second, Sunak says immigration officials will stage more raids.
And he says it is absurd that asylum seekers can easily set up bank accounts. He says there will be more data sharing to stop this.
More small boat pilots to be prosecuted, Sunak says
Sunak says he and the home secretary have studied the problem in detail. They will set out five new steps.
First, there will be a new, unified small boats command.
The current system is too fragmented, he says.
He says he wants to use new technology to identify boats. And he wants to prosecute more small boat pilots.
Sunak says no one can doubt the generosity of people in the UK.
But many of the people coming to the UK on small boats are not fleeing war zones or persecution, he says.
He says the current asylum rules were not designed to deal with arrivals like this.
Sunak says illegal migration is 'unfair' on Britons, legal migrants and genuine asylum seekers
Rishi Sunak says there is a complex moral dimension to this problem.
He says there is a need to help those in need, but also a need to have control of our borders.
He says he wants to start by looking at what is unfair.
He says it is unfair if people can exploit the situation.
It is unfair on those with a genuine case for asylum when our capacity to help is taken up by people coming through and from countries that are perfectly safe.
It is unfair on those who migrate here legally when others come here by cheating the system.
And above all, it is unfair on the British people who play by the rules, when others come here illegally and benefit from breaking those rules.
Rishi Sunak's statement to MPs on illegal immigration
Rishi Sunak is about to give MPs a statement on tackling illegal immigration. He is expected to announce plans to fast-track the removal of asylum seekers from countries deemed safe like Albania.
Many experts object to describing people crossing the Channel in small boats as illegal immigrants, because often they subsequently do get granted asylum, but “illegal immigration” is the term No 10 is using to describe the subject of the statement.
The Nationality and Borders Act passed this year specifically made it an offence to arrive in the UK knowingly without the right documents. But, as the BBC reported yesterday, very few people have been prosecuted under this new law.
Ofsted chief says school attendance in England now 'persistently somewhat lower' than pre-pandemic
Children’s recovery from the pandemic is being held back by a workforce crisis in schools, colleges and early years, with children who have special education needs among those worst affected, according to England’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted.
Ofsted has made the claim in its annual report out this morning. Here is my colleage Sally Weale’s story.
At a media briefing on the report, Amanda Spielman, the Ofsted chief inspector, said school attendance was “running persistently somewhat lower than pre-pandemic, over and above anything that could be attributed to illness”. She suggested some parents had “lost sight” of the importance of keeping their children in school. She said:
I think this is a deep and concerning problem. For many years, I think there’s been a very clear social contract.
On the one side, the clear expectation is that parents should get their children to school every day, unless the child is too ill to go to school. And in return schools will do everything they can to give the child a good education and to prepare them really well for their futures, for their adult life.
The pandemic disruption, and the expectation that children should be kept at home, broke that. So for significant periods children were educated as best they could be remotely. And that broke down that structure, that routine of getting children up and to school every day.
We know how many children didn’t take up the places that were available (to attend school during lockdowns) for disadvantaged children, for example. And coming back post-pandemic, for a minority of families they’ve just sort of lost sight of the importance of that consistency of getting children to school every day – that it’s not an optional thing. It’s not a ‘when you feel like it, and not when you don’t’.
Schools can’t be expected to provide education remotely if the parent feels that they would prefer to keep the child at home more of the time.
TSSA announces fresh rail strike after Christmas at CrossCountry
A rail workers’ union has announced a fresh strike over pay, jobs and conditions, PA Media reports. PA says:
Members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association at CrossCountry will strike on Boxing Day and 27 December.
TSSA is demanding a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, no unagreed changes to terms and conditions, and a pay increase which addresses the rising cost of living.
The union said it believes the strikes will severely affect services at CrossCountry, which covers large swathes of the country, from Penzance in Cornwall, to the Midlands, Wales, and northern England through to Scottish cities as far north as Aberdeen.
The action replaces a strike at CrossCountry by TSSA on 17 December, which has now been cancelled.
Tory MP Adam Afriyie declared bankrupt over debts worth £1.7m
The Conservative MP Adam Afriyie has been made bankrupt after a judge in a specialist court heard how he owed around £1.7m, PA Media reports. A bankruptcy order was made against Afriyie, who represents Windsor, at an online hearing in the insolvency and companies court today by judge Nicholas Briggs.
This story, by my colleagues Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason last year, explains the background to this case.
Expert migration committee says it's 'bewildered' government is doing so little about low pay in care sector
In its annual report, the migration advisory committee, an official government advisory body, says it is “bewildered” that the government is not doing more to tackle the problem of low pay in the care sector. It says care workers should be paid a legal minimum at least £1 an hour above the “national living wage” (currently £9.50 an hour). It says:
We completed our enquiry into the impact of the ending of freedom of movement on the adult social care sector in April and submitted the report to government and parliament. We recommended that care workers continue to be eligible to apply for a health and care worker visa and made some additional recommendations for changes to the immigration system to ease the burden on social care employers and migrants.
However, our main recommendation was that a minimum rate of pay should be established for care workers at a premium to the statutory minimum wage where care is being provided with public funds. We suggested that this should initially be set at £1 per hour above the national living wage but expected a more substantial premium to be needed to properly address the crisis in social care recruitment and retention.
It is deeply disappointing that the government have still not responded to our report. We note that the governments of Scotland and Wales are taking clear action to address low pay in the sector and are bewildered by the lack of urgency exhibited by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Jonathan Portes, an economics professor and a specialist on immigration, highlights this and other interesting aspects in the report in a good Twitter thread starting here.
Four Scottish polls in a row show more support for independence than for staying in UK
Another opinion poll has put support for Scottish independence clearly in the lead, with yes outstripping no by five points, in the wake of the supreme court ruling that Holyrood does not have the power to stage a referendum.
The YouGov poll for the Times puts the yes vote at 47% and no at 42%, with “don’t knows” or “would not vote” at 8%. In October, YouGov had put yes at 43% and no at 45%.
Once “don’t knows” are excluded, the new polls translates into a six-point lead for yes on 53% with no on 47% this month.
This is the fourth successive poll putting yes in the lead since last month’s court ruling, and once “don’t knows” are excluded, brings support for independence close to the highs last seen in late 2020 when Nicola Sturgeon was leading Scotland’s battle against Covid.
While the none of those polls yet show an overall yes majority if don’t knows or reluctant voters are included, the mood has again shifted – nearly all the previous polls since spring 2021 had given a consistent lead to no.
It shows that independence remains firmly embedded as an option for around half of Scotland’s voters. The four polls also imply that Labour’s attempts to seize the constitutional initiative with Keir Starmer’s pledge last week to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber for the nations and regions, and empower Holyrood, has failed to impress voters.
However, YouGov’s results bring warnings for Sturgeon: 52% of YouGov’s respondents disliked her claim that the next general election should be a single-issue de facto referendum on independence. Only 39% agreed with Sturgeon that a majority of votes for the SNP would be a mandate to negotiate independence. YouGov also put SNP support at 43%, down two points on October – well short of that golden 50% threshold.
While 51% of voters supported a referendum in the next five years, only 38% supported her referendum target date of October next year. That finding has been consistently recorded by pollsters over the last few years: a modest majority of Scots support a referendum, just not now.
Four million households will face higher mortgage payments over next year, Bank of England says
About 4 million mortgage borrowers are set to see their monthly payments jump by the end of the next year as the risk of households defaulting on debt has risen, the Bank of England has warned. In a summary of its financial policy committee report, it says:
Pressures on household finances will increase over 2023. In total around half of owner-occupier mortgages (around 4 million) will be exposed to rate rises over the next year.
Falling real incomes, increases in mortgage costs and higher unemployment will place significant pressure on household finances.
The share of households with high cost of living adjusted mortgage debt-servicing ratios would increase over 2023 to 2.4%, assuming current market pricing of Bank rate, but remain lower than in the global financial crisis (GFC).
Households are also experiencing increased pressure on their ability to service other types of consumer debt, such as credit cards and personal loans.
The report says that people who have fixed-rate mortgage expiring by the end of 2023 are likely to have to pay around £250 more per month when they renew their mortgage on a new rate. For an average household, this will mean monthly payments rising from £750 to £1,000, it says. It goes on:
That equates to around 17% of their average pre-tax income, up from 12% at the end of June 2022. Some mortgagors also have very low levels of savings, which means these households will only have a limited cushion against further shocks to their real incomes. Within the mortgagor population, those adversely affected by rate rises are typically younger, have lower incomes, and are the most leveraged.
In total, around half of owner-occupier mortgages (around four million) will be exposed to rate rises over the next year. This number includes those on variable rates, and those coming to the end of fixed-rate products during this period. Around a third of mortgagors, or 2.7 million households, are expected to face increases in monthly repayments of over £100 by end-2023, and around half by end-2025.
Sunak urged not to focus on cutting immigration amid UK staff shortages
Rishi Sunak has been warned by the migration advisory committee to avoid focusing on reducing the numbers of people coming into the UK amid a national staffing shortage in key industries, my colleague Rajeev Syal reports.
Sunak to make statement to MPs about plans to deal with illegal immigration
Rishi Sunak will give a statement to MPs today about tackling illegal immigration, sources are telling journalists. This will be the announcement previewed in the Times. (See 9.28am.)
Mick Lynch accuses BBC of bias as he defends RMT strike in morning interview round
Here are the main lines from Mick Lynch’s morning interview round.
Lynch, the RMT general secretary, insisted his union was not opposed to reform of working practices on the rail network. “We’re not opposed to change, we deal with it all of the time,” he told BBC Breakfast. But he said there had to be “negotiated change, not imposition”.
He said that the rail dispute was costing the government £320m, and that the train operating companies had no incentive to settle because the Treasury paid their costs. He told PA Media:
The government is prepared to take so far a loss of maybe 320 million quid so that they can subsidise this dispute, so the incentive is not with the train-operating companies to settle this because they’ve been instructed not to settle by the government.
The RMT frequently complains that the rail companies have no incentive to settle the dispute under their current financing structure. Ed Conway, Sky’s economics editor, explained this well in a Sunday Times column at the weekend.
The RMT union is supposedly negotiating pay and conditions with the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operating companies. It might have made sense to have these two parties facing each other over the table a couple of years ago, when the franchise operators had a say in these things. Back then, it was up to them to absorb the cost of raising pay, and any days lost to strikes would take a slice out of their profits.
These days, however, the franchise system has been replaced with “passenger operating contracts”, which is a slightly long-winded way of saying “nationalisation”, since Whitehall ultimately decides on almost everything and takes the financial hit. “We can’t fart without permission,” as one senior rail operator put it.
The upshot is that the companies running the trains have less incentive to improve their service, and little punishment when things go wrong. They don’t really suffer when there is a strike, so why are they doing the negotiation?
Lynch apologised to members of the public for the disruption caused. He told PA Media:
We don’t like disrupting the public and we apologise for the disruption that’s being caused. I believe we could have worked towards a settlement a couple of weeks ago until that was undermined by the stance that certain people have taken.
He refused to accept that the result of the ballot of RMT members in Network Rail, who yesterday rejected the pay offer by 64%, was disappointing. A previous majority against settling was higher. But Lynch said:
Two-thirds were not willing to accept it in a very straightforward democratic vote on a very high turnout.
And the company Network Rail put on a big effort. They sent all their managers out into the depots and stations, they made special films, they put a lot of comms together to try and get our members to accept it, and our members have resisted that very strongly.
There’s always going to be a constituency of people that want to settle at the first go, but they’ve also shown through a strike mandate ballot that we had a couple of weeks ago, or three or four weeks ago and this latest referendum, that they’re prepared to stick behind the dispute to get a settlement that they can support.
He said that there was still time to settle the dispute before Christmas. He said:
We’ve still got plenty of time before the Christmas Eve strikes if [Network Rail chief executive] Andrew Haines and the train operating companies, Huw Merriman the rail minister, and Mark Harper the secretary of state, want to come to me with a set of serious proposals to improve their offer so that we can get a settlement to the dispute, we’ll come over and see them as soon as possible.
They’ve already invited me to a set of talks and we’ll attend those to try and get a settlement to this dispute. And when our members decide that they want to accept it, that’s when the dispute will be finished.
Lynch accused the Today presenter, Mishal Husain, of repeating rightwing propaganda when she asked him how much his members were losing in pay from the strike action. In response, he told her:
That depends on what shifts they were working, what rate of pay they earn and how many occasions they have to go out.
What I do find annoying though, Mishal, is that you put these lines that are directly taken from the propaganda of the other side. You never show any admiration for the fight that working people are putting up in this country for the rebalancing of our society.
You never criticise the super-rich for what they’re doing to nurses, what they’re doing to postal workers, and you never seem to take an impartial view on the way this society is balanced at the moment with the complete lack of distribution of wealth in our society.
You always just seem to punt out anything you receive from the employers and from the government, and that’s what I’m hearing directly through the filter of the BBC this morning.
On ITV’s Good Morning Britain Lynch also had a spat with the presenter Richard Madeley. He told Madeley:
We’re not targeting Christmas, it isn’t Christmas yet, Richard, I don’t know when your Christmas starts but mine starts on Christmas Eve.
When Madeley told him commercial Christmas starts in December, Lynch replied: “Richard, why don’t you just interview yourself?”
Transport secretary Mark Harper claims public opinion turning against RMT over rail strikes
This morning Mark Harper, the transport secretary, and Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, have both been giving interviews. Their claims have been well rehearsed – this is a dispute that has been running for months, after all – but as it reaches the point where passengers are going to be inconvenienced more than ever before, the competition for public support becomes more intense.
In an interview with Times Radio, Harper claimed public opinion was turning against the RMT. Referring to the outcome of a ballot of its Network Rail members announced yesterday, Harper claimed:
[The RMT] have had a fair and reasonable offer, which has been accepted by Unite staff at Network Rail, the TSSA are recommending acceptance of that offer, it’s just the RMT that are recommending that it be refused. But even with them recommending refusal, almost 40% of their staff actually voted in favour of it. So I think the tide is turning on public opinion.
But the evidence for Harper’s claim is limited. Recently YouGov published polling suggesting a plurarity of voters are opposed to the strikes.
In the summer a separate Ipsos poll found the public split 50/50 (or 35% to 35%, to be precise) on whether they supported the rail strikes, and the difference between the two sets of results might back Harper’s case. But, even on the latest YouGov numbers, support for the RMT is high by historical standards, and support for rail workers being allowed to strike has actually gone up over the last three years, a YouGov tracker says.
In his interviews this morning Lynch said his union still did have public support.
Sunak chairs cabinet ahead of expected release of plan to fast-track removal of some asylum seekers
Good morning. The first of four 48-hour national RMT rail strikes, set to paralyse the network of the holiday period, has started. Given the impact that these strikes will have on non-strike days, and other closures planned over Christmas, one estimate says rail services won’t return to normal for a month.
Here is my colleague Julia Kollewe’s story about the situation travellers this morning.
And here is Jasper Jolly’s business blog, which is covering this in more detail.
Cabinet is meeting this morning. Politics is dominated by the strikes, but the Times is reporting that Rishi Sunak could announce his latest plan to reduce the number of small boat crossings as early as today. In their story Matt Dathan and Stephen Swinford say:
The prime minister is expected to announce the first tranche of his strategy to deal with illegal immigration on Tuesday amid warnings from Tory backbenchers that the party will face defeat at the next election if it fails to resolve the issue. The announcement is expected to include a fast-track process for assessing claims from a list of “safe” countries such as Albania.
Sunak is set to announce that all asylum claims from countries on a Home Office “white list” will be automatically rejected unless the individual can provide evidence that their claim has merit, proposals that were first revealed by The Times earlier this month.
Government sources said there were plans to merge the assessment process for asylum and modern slavery claims, as part of efforts to stop failed asylum seekers “gaming” the system by claiming to be victims of modern slavery at the last minute to avoid deportation.
Sunak desperately needs something that will win his government some credit with the voters, given all the other problems he faces, although whether this will do the trick remains to be seen. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has already her announced her own plans to fast-track asylum applications from countries like Albania, and that will make it harder for Sunak to argue the Tories are doing something distinctive.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.
10am: Ofsted publishes its annual report.
11.30am: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
After 12.30pm: MPs debate the remaining stages of the levelling up bill.
12.45pm: Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, gives a speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank on defending democracy. The annual report from parliament’s intelligence and security committee is also due to be published at some point today.
2pm: Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, does a phone-in on LBC.
2.30pm: Grant Shapps, the business secretary, gives evidence to the Commons business committee.
Afternoon: Peers vote on a Lib Dem motion that would block regulations introducing voter ID for elections.
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