Ministers are playing to the nativist gallery with ideas for dumping migrants on distant islands or rusting ferry boats
This year, largely because of the travel shutdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers of people from around the world seeking asylum in Britain have plummeted to a 10-year low. Now read those words again. Not a 10-year high – but its opposite, a 10-year low. Even last year, pre-Covid, there were only around five asylum applications for every 10,000 people living in the United Kingdom. That compared with 14 applications per 10,000 across the European Union as a whole. Measured by asylum claim rates, the UK was 17th on the list of European countries last year.
You would never guess any of this from the way the home secretary Priti Patel goes about her job. Ms Patel has the nastiest view of her department’s task of any home secretary in decades – and there have been some nasty ones. She is obsessed with parading toughness towards asylum seekers as part of her Margaret Thatcher tribute act. Her only concerns are to keep asylum seekers out by whatever means she can, and to claim the credit. She is more interested in generating headlines than in solving this or any other Home Office problem, let alone in cooperating with other countries to do so. Faced with a deepening autumn coronavirus crisis on several fronts, Downing Street is happy to change the subject in this way too. It seems almost certain that Dominic Cummings, with his Dr Strangelove-style approach to difficult and complex human problems, is involved in this too.