The inhumane and much-criticised Nationality and Borders Bill is now at the report stage in the House of Commons. This is an opportune moment to examine some of the arguments often quoted in favour of the bill, including by our own MP, in particular those relating to our supposed ‘generosity’ towards refugees and asylum seekers when compared to other countries in Europe.

If we start with asylum seekers, those seeking recognition as refugees due to a well-founded fear of persecution, we find that in 2020 the UK came 9th in a list of 32 European countries, making 9,115 asylum grants compared with Germany’s 62,470. But this does not take account of the size of each country; per head of population we slip to 19th out of 32. Size for size, Greece made more than 23 times the number of asylum grants.

To make things worse, although there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker, the government proposes to treat all those desperate enough to try reaching the UK by their own efforts as ‘illegal’ even though there is no way of applying for asylum unless you are already in the UK, a perfect Catch-22.

The only way to reach the UK ‘legally’ is via a refugee resettlement scheme, such as that implemented for refugees from the conflict in Syria. But even this cannot be applied for; refugees are selected by UN agencies and then resettled by agreement with the Home Office. Here we have done better; in 2019 we were 1st out of 32 countries, resettling 5610 refugees (admittedly only 10 more than France) and it is this figure which Conservative politicians love to quote as proof of our compassion. It is being economical with the truth, to say the least. By 2020 we had slipped to 2nd place (Germany resettled twice as many) but once again the true picture has to take account of the relative sizes of the receiving countries. This puts us in 5th place in 2020, and no better than 8th in 2019.

Overall in 2020 we were in 7th place for the total number of resettlement and asylum grants made, but when the size of our population is taken into consideration we’re right back at 19th. So next time a politician tries to convince you that we have a monopoly on magnanimity towards refugees, and can therefore justify a draconian tightening of the rules, take it with the large pinch of salt it deserves.

Mike Davis.