Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Will Sunak manage to remove illegal migrants ‘within weeks’?

Rishi Sunak (Credit: Getty images)

Let the trumpeters trumpet and church bells across this land peal away in celebration: the Home Office has an administrative achievement to its name. According to ministers, a ‘legacy’ backlog of almost 92,000 asylum claims made before the end of June 2022 has been cleared, just as Rishi Sunak pledged that it would be.

It is hardly the equivalent of the Union flag flying again over South Georgia early in the Falklands War. But nonetheless let us just rejoice for a moment at that news given how seldom it is that the Home Office hits any target whatsoever. Yet after our rejoicing is done we must, alas, kick our brains into gear and unpack what this really means.

While asylum claims are now running at above 80,000 a year, forced returns are below 6,000

It certainly doesn’t mean there is now no backlog of asylum cases. Around 100,000 applications made since June 2022 are yet to be determined. Nor does it mean the British state has proved it is no soft touch for asylum claims, as Home Secretary James Cleverly has acknowledged there was an overall grant rate of 67 per cent last year. (This, remember, is for people who overwhelmingly arrived in our country illegally but managed to enter before Rishi Sunak’s pledge that nobody in such circumstances will be permitted to stay kicked in).

Nor does it mean that the roughly one in three people whose applications were turned down have been removed – most will be in an appeals process by now. Nor does it mean that all of the 92,000 cases in the backlog have received an initial decision: some 4,500 have been placed in a different in-tray as ‘complex’ cases, often involving disputed claims about the age of younger applicants.

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