Deportation of Foreign National Offenders

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department 4:30, 7 February 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the deportation of foreign national offenders.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Let me start with a quote:

“Never in the history of the world have there been so many migrants. And almost all of them are migrating from regions where nationality is weak or non-existent to the established nation states of the West. They are not migrating because they have discovered some previously dormant feeling of love or loyalty towards the nations in whose territory they seek a home. On the contrary, few of them identify their loyalties in national terms and almost none of them in terms of the nation where they settle.”

Roger Scruton wrote those words in 2004.

I have often spoken of the generous and welcoming nature of the people of Redditch. My constituents have opened their hearts and their homes and shown love to strangers from Syria, Ukraine and all over the world who are now our neighbours and friends. But as a Conservative, I defend my right to tell the truth to the British people about the abuse of our homes and communities that is facilitated by some in our asylum and immigration systems, and in our courts and tribunals, in the name of kindness and virtue signalling. I am choosing my words very carefully, because I know many will try to discredit my remarks. Note my use of the word “some”—it does not mean all. It might be a small number, but nevertheless the public expect us to take this seriously.

Our critics attack us. They say it is heartless and cruel—or, bizarrely, far right—to believe that the people who have lived all their lives in our country should have a say in how many more people come to it, or to aver that the people who come to our country should respect our laws, traditions and culture and that, if they do not, they should be sent back to where they come from. That is why I secured this debate.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the number of foreign national offenders subject to deportation action living in the community has risen year on year for the last decade and has reached nearly 12,000, a 192% increase since 2012. That is 12,000 criminals free to roam our streets while they exploit our legal system at taxpayers’ expense to stay here longer.

As that number has climbed over the last decade, the number of people we return to other countries has fallen: total enforced returns dropped from 15,134 in 2012 to 5,506 in the year ending September 2023. Meanwhile, 10,321 FNOs are on the prison estate. According to Ministry of Justice figures, in 2021-22, the average cost per prisoner per year was £31,000. Add to that the legal fees involved in getting them to prison in the first place, and the figure runs into the hundreds of millions every year.

We must raise our eyes and stop thinking that the United Kingdom is uniquely afflicted by this problem and that our own Government are the only ones battling it. Every country around the world is dealing with spiralling immigration. None has ready solutions. All face the same issues of democratic consent. Take the EU: 2.3 million immigrants entered the bloc from non-EU countries in 2021, an increase of almost 18% compared with 2020. The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa was last year overwhelmed by 7,000 migrants—more than its entire population of 6,000. The EU does not have the answers.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were displaced. That represents an increase of 19 million people wanting to leave their own country compared with the end of 2021—more than the population of Ecuador, the Netherlands or Somalia. Of course, many of those aspire to come to European nations in the west, including the UK, and we have always done our part in this country. In the UK, net migration has been a major component of population over the past two decades, making up 60% of the growth from 2001 to 2020.

It is a fact of human nature that not everybody is a good person. That is something that Jesus of Nazareth—we will come to him—knew. When numbers of immigrants rise, most—the vast majority—are good people, but proportionately more bad people will be among their number. In this country, we are open hearted, generous and tolerant to those who treat us with respect and are willing to abide by our laws. But we have all seen the examples of people that we have welcomed to our homes who only wish to harm or kill us, our families and our communities. They are people who have no intention of returning the love and support that we have shown them, and they have treated our country as a dormitory, and sometimes as a cash machine, to bring their relatives in by the back door.

Our constituents are not naïve. They know that people of any nationality are capable of sinning, lying and evil, but they do not expect our country to be an offshore prison facility for criminals from all over the world. They elect us to keep people safe in their beds at night and on our streets, and to get foreign criminals out of our country and let their own societies rehabilitate them. Every sovereign nation has the right to control its borders. This is not far-right rhetoric; it is centred on common sense.

Why, despite everything that the Conservative Government have done, are the numbers going the wrong way? I served as a Minister both in the Home Office and in the Ministry of Justice. It is a true pleasure to have my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, with whom it was my privilege to serve in the Home Office, here today. She will know, as I do, just how many obstacles exist to deporting people who should not be here, despite the excellent people who work in the Home Office.

I think most people would be surprised to learn, for example, that foreigners convicted of crimes that attract sentences of less than 12 months can still be granted asylum and stay here. Why? Conservatives have done more than ever before to tackle the concerning rise in illegal migration and criminality, and to clamp down on the merry-go-round of spurious asylum claims, but a thicket of legal instruments, treaties and conventions still exists, which gives foreign national offenders grounds to escape deportation. I know it is difficult, but we must do more.

A new loophole is emerging that is ripe for exploitation, and I am genuinely worried about it. It is the fear of persecution if returned, on the grounds of religious conversion, especially from Islam to Christianity. Every single person in this Chamber, if they are truthful with themselves, can imagine the situation: you are a migrant on the Bibby Stockholm or in a British jail, about to be sent back to Somalia. A nice legal aid lawyer or non-governmental organisation appears in front of you with a script to follow and explains that a miracle can happen. Next thing, the light appears and you are a Christian.

The prime suspect in the Clapham case was given asylum on the second time of asking, despite being charged with sexual assault and indecent exposure in 2018. He claimed that he had converted to Christianity, meaning he would have been at risk of persecution if he returned to Afghanistan. The suicide bomber who attacked Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Emad al-Swealmeen, had, following a failed initial asylum claim, converted from Islam to Christianity. I tried to find figures for how many other FNOs have evaded deportation because of this issue, but I was unable to. I understand that the Home Secretary is looking at this, so I am sure that the Minister can update us.

Jesus understood compassion to foreigners and strangers, as we read in the Bible. The words “refugee” and “asylum seeker” do not appear anywhere in Holy Scripture—and who would argue in all seriousness that the world of the tribes of Israel in Egypt some four millennia ago was anything like the same as it is today? But Jesus was a student of human nature. He understood the temptation to lie. As students of human nature and intelligent people in this place, we should be brave enough to acknowledge this. Only God can look into my heart and my personal Christian faith, with all its flaws, and know whether I believe in him or not. We are asking the impossible of our clergymen. They are not God, and to pretend that they are is the ultimate mass delusion.

Do not gaslight us and say that this is not a situation ripe for abuse. Desperate people do desperate things. We should blame not the people—I emphasise that I do not blame them—but the incentives and the policy structures that allow this to take place. The British people feel, as I do, that we have allowed ourselves to become taken advantage of. We have been quite literally killing ourselves with kindness. If we continue this way, we risk eroding trust in our institutions and structures of government—the very things that we build our nation on.

I do not know about you, Mr Gray, but I was shocked to discover that the BBC has permitted a former employee to give evidence at immigration tribunals supporting 15 convicted Somalian criminals, including rapists. Some of that number have been given leave to remain in the UK after their trials and appeals based on her evidence. Do people pay their licence fee for this? What message does it send to the victims, some of them children, of these evil foreign thugs?

I come now to the most important part of my speech. It is only Conservative values, centred on our belief in a strong nation state, that have any answers to this wicked problem. We are the only ones prepared to stand up and fight for our hard-won peace. We are the only ones who are making progress, difficult though it is, over the longer term to fight to protect our democracy and our safety.

Let us look at what the Labour party is doing as we approach the next election—perhaps they have a plan. What do we see when we look deeper? Members of the current Labour Front Bench—including Keir Starmer when campaigning to be the leader of the Labour party—signed a letter calling for the suspension of a flight to deport 50 offenders to Jamaica and the suspension of all future charter flights. One hundred and fifty-one Labour MPs and peers, as well as Liberal Democrats and Members of other Opposition parties, and celebrities, signed the letter calling for the flight to be scrapped. It is hardly surprising, when they are led by someone who once claimed there was a

“racist undercurrent which permeates all immigration law”.

Among those who escaped deportation that day was heroin dealer Akiva Heaven, who had already served four years in prison and went on to be jailed again in May 2021 for dealing cocaine and heroin. If that was not bad enough, one of the criminals Labour Members so generously campaigned on behalf of, Ernesto Elliott, went on to commit murder. How can we ever trust them? These people are only interested in a free ride on the virtue-signalling train with their celebrity mates. They might try to persuade the British public that they have changed, but they are, and they remain, a risk to our national security.

I know exactly what they will say—that it is the easy attack, that it is all our fault, that we have been in government for 14 years. I am afraid that that perfectly demonstrates my point. Their flat denial that this is a global, emergent and unpredictable threat—a new threat in many respects—tells the British people that they have no serious plan to tackle it. Worse, they maintain the fantasy that all can be solved by talking in a nicer way to the EU.

What we need is a cultural change. First, we must protect our homes and our families. Patriotism grows from the soil of trust. People who care about our country as their own, no matter where they have come from, will put their lives on the line to defend it. Scruton speaks of the educated derision that has been directed at our national loyalty by those whose freedom to criticise would have been extinguished years ago had the English not been prepared to die for their country.

We all know who those critics are—the celebrity on a humanitarian crusade to boost their flagging career; some institutions, including some in the Church of England, some of its leaders, some universities and some in the BBC; and that ballooning charity, legal aid and NGO racket. They can burnish their compassion credentials and bottom lines with a few clicks. I say to them: this is on you. You must take your share of responsibility. You are recklessly and dangerously tossing away our national inheritance, which has, as the German poet Goethe said, been laboriously earned by our forefathers from Christianity, imperial government and Roman law. I call on the Minister and the Home Secretary to urgently revisit the legal frameworks underpinning the exemptions on grounds of religion and faith.

I ask the following questions to the excellent Minister, who is to be commended for the vigour and effectiveness he has brought to his brief. Why does he think we have seen a downward trend in the number of FNOs being deported, and what steps are he and the Government taking to address the issue? How many have been granted asylum after being sentenced for a crime? Does he think that the current arrangements, which permit those sentenced for less than 12 months to be granted asylum, are adequate?

I thank everyone who has supported the debate. I finish by reminding us that our generation has a solemn duty to our country. Goethe, again:

“What you have inherited from your forefathers, earn it, that you might own it.”

Earning it, we will own it, and owning it, we will be at peace within our borders.