Behind the scenes

Priti Patel ‘to help refugees fleeing war zones get into UK’

Insiders say home secretary plans to offer safe passage as part of push to stem illegal Channel crossings

Priti Patel is set to hit back at people smugglers by helping asylum seekers fleeing war zones with safe passage to the UK, according to Whitehall insiders.

The Sun reports that the home secretary will lay out plans next week to introduce “new legal pathways to try stem the tide of illegal crossings over the Channel”, in a move which will “rip up parts of the Modern Slavery Act” that are “exploited by criminals”.

The “firm but fair” package will enable “genuine refugees” to “come to the UK through agencies working in war zones and volatile areas of the world”, the paper adds.

A Whitehall source said the government is “committed to setting up safe legal routes” that will be “fair and will ensure those under oppression, persecution and tyranny” can come to Britain.

The plan is thought to have been inspired by the path to citizenship offered to Hongkongers after China passed “draconian” legislation aimed at cracking down on dissent in the city state. Boris Johnson responded to the new security laws by opening the door to the three million residents of the former colony with British National Overseas status. 

Around 5,000 Hongkongers applied to live and work in the UK after visa programme changes were made in late January, and the government expects that total to rise to 300,000 eventually.

Despite that precedent, Patel’s planned changes would mark a dramatic shift in tone for the Home Office. The Financial Times reported last year that the Foreign Office had been “consulted” on proposals to send asylum seekers to isolated islands in the south Atlantic - some 4,000 miles from the UK.

But in what would be a major U-turn, Patel will now open the doors to an unspecified number of asylum seekers, sources told The Sun.

An insider said that the new plan will be “based on need, so we can take in an appropriate amount of people, and not based on numbers plucked out of thin air”.

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