Priti Patel is under fresh pressure after being accused of appearing to have misled parliament on proposed powers to crack down on protests and, separately, issuing a statement on her asylum bill that does not seem to be supported by evidence.
Both interventions from the home secretary were used to justify some of the most controversial aspects of her bills on policing and the asylum system, which have both been criticised as either undemocratic or cruel.
The developments emerge days after Patel was accused by England footballer Tyrone Mings of “stoking the fire” for racists to abuse his teammates after she dismissed taking the knee as “gesture politics.”
During a 15 March parliamentary debate on the contentious police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, Patel said she had worked closely with the Police Federation, which represents the interests of 130,000 officers, when drafting the legislative proposal.
“We ask our brave police officers to do the most difficult of jobs … and that is why I have worked closely with the Police Federation in developing this bill,” she told the Commons.
However, a freedom of information (FoI) response reveals she did not consult the federation on the most controversial aspect of the bill – plans to limit protest – which have triggered demonstrations across the UK.
The federation’s response states: “We did not provide a written submission nor were we consulted on issues of protest-related legislation.”
Grey Collier, Liberty’s advocacy director, said: “The home secretary’s assertion is disingenuous and leaves serious questions over whether Parliament has been misled.”
Patel is also facing further questions over attempts to justify her nationality and borders bill, which has been criticised for excessive cruelty to asylum seekers and will reduce support for victims of human trafficking.
On 20 March the Home Office issued a statement claiming an “alarming rise in people abusing our modern slavery system by posing as victims in order to prevent their removal and enable them stay in the country”. The official statement, initially leaked to the Sun, was supported by a quote from Patel that said: “Our generous safeguards for victims are being rampantly abused by child rapists, people who pose a threat to national security and failed asylum seekers with no right to be here.”
Her comments were used to help push for sweeping changes to the system for identifying and protecting victims of trafficking.
Yet an FoI response to queries by ECPAT UK reveals that the Home Office’s modern slavery unit could not provide data for child rapists, national security threats or failed asylum seekers referred into the modern slavery system since 2017. The response clarifies that it would need to trawl case files to compile the data, suggesting a lack of existing data for the claims made by Patel and the Home Office.
Patricia Durr, ECPAT UK’s chief executive, said: “It is shocking to have to rely on an FoI request to get to the truth behind a policy that will impact over 10,000 potential victims identified last year alone – the majority British nationals.
“Many provisions are unnecessary, cruel and clearly baseless. There are serious questions to be asked about the evidence basis for measures in a bill that is biggest setback in recent history on survivors of trafficking.”
Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at human rights organisation Liberty, which submitted the FoI requests on the policing bill along with environmental group Friends of the Earth, said: “This bill has triggered mass protests and almost universal opposition – including from ex-police chiefs who say it threatens democracy. The fact that policing bodies weren’t even consulted shows how determined those in power are to stifle dissent.”
Danny Gross, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The government didn’t even consult the police themselves, let alone more widely about these plans to clamp down on peaceful protest, which is after all a fundamental British right. We have to ask why that was?”
A Home Office spokesperson said any suggestion Patel had misled parliament on the policing bill was “completely baseless”. They said: “She referred to working with the Police Federation when discussing measures that will most impact their members.”
When asked to respond, the federation declined, although the FoI response does elaborate that the organisation’s head, John Apter, told a parliamentary committee three days after Patel’s claims to MPs on 15 March that his organisation “had not been consulted” on the part of the bill relating to a crackdown on protest.
Regarding claims about the asylum bill, which has its second reading in the Commons on Monday, the Home Office said: “Our asylum system is broken and open to abuse. This is supported by evidence, including published statistics and Home Office analysis. To suggest otherwise is completely wrong.
“We will not tolerate those, including child rapists, people who pose a threat to national security, failed asylum seekers with no right to be here, or those who attempt to divert resources away from genuine victims.”
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