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Opinion

Why the UK Government’s sacking of the ICIBI sets a dangerous precedent

16 Mar 2024 4 minute read
David Neal has hit out at his treatment by the Home Office (ICIBI Corporate Services/PA)

Nathan Phillips Wales Campaigns Manager Asylum Matters

In February, the UK Government sacked David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration, after he revealed several failures in the Government’s asylum policies. 

Neal claims he was dismissed for “doing his job” and “speaking truth to power.”

He has hit out at the “shocking leadership” within the Home Office, as more than 40 refugee charities wrote to the Home Secretary to warn the sacking of the ICIBI had left the asylum system at risk.

“Hopelessness”

The Chief Inspector’s removal came within days of Neal reporting on the ‘overwhelming sense of hopelessness’ amongst asylum seekers placed at RAF Wethersfield.

This came soon after a damning report published by Helen Bamber Foundation and Humans for Rights Network that described men at Wethersfield as ‘ghettoised’ and ‘traumatised’.

Now, without an ICIBI in post, vital inspections into harmful institutional asylum accommodation sites including the Bibby Stockholm barge and RAF Wethersfield, as well as a report into the handling of modern slavery and human trafficking claims, cannot be submitted. 

People thought to be asylum seekers boarding the Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

As outlined in the joint letter to James Cleverly MP: “effectively disabling independent scrutiny of a highly controversial policy area constitutes yet another step towards the erosion of government accountability, and follows close behind similar moves to weaken judicial oversight and limit people’s power to protest. Such actions fundamentally undermine our democratic society.”

This also sets a dangerous precedent, that if an independent inspectorate that exists to hold the Government accountable for its actions can be so readily dismissed after criticising Government performance, what’s to stop similar actions being taken against health watchdogs or the independent chief inspector of prisons?

It also undermines the Welsh Government’s mission to become a Nation of Sanctuary. Could we in Wales face another Penally camp if similar sites in England are not scrutinised properly?

“Serious questions”

In a further act that is damaging to democratic accountability, since Neal’s dismissal, the Home Office has published 13 of his reports online all at once, in a move Her Majesty’s Opposition alleges is an attempt to ‘hide shameful information’.

The Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee described this action as “wholly inadequate” and as raising “serious questions about what the Home Office has been doing all this time” and asking “has the Home Office just been sitting on [these reports]?”

Those reports uncovered:

  • A cruel game played by staff with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children about who was going to be fostered next in an asylum hotel in Kent. 
  • 467 cases of asylum-seeking children going missing from hotels between July 2021 and September 2023. 147 children remained unaccounted for.
  • A ‘secret policy’ operated by the Home Office to stop relocating Afghans from Pakistan to the UK in order to limit the use of hotels.
  • That the Home Office has a ‘culture of defensiveness’ and ‘will not change’ if it does not want to. It showed a ‘reluctance to engage’, the chief inspector experienced ‘significant pushback’ including responses that ‘have gone way beyond’ just checking factual accuracy.
  • That the quality of asylum decisions had been ‘sacrificed’ in order to slash the backlog, which will lead to an increase in appeals ‘as a result of poor-quality refusals’. 
  • The number of asylum claims being withdrawn had soared, but only one of those decisions was quality assured.
  • Morale amongst asylum decision-makers is ‘extremely low’ and 60% of workers surveyed wanted to leave their roles as soon as possible or within the next year, due to the pressure of meeting targets affecting their mental health.
  • The Home Office does not have a “single accurate dataset” for Afghans who arrived during Operation Pitting, the military evacuation of Afghans and UK citizens after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
  • The Home Office has been “running unregistered children’s homes for two years now”. Despite a court finding that housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels was unlawful, there was no “exit strategy” detailing how the situation could be changed.

These reports not only demonstrate the dire state the UK asylum system is currently in, with ever spiralling harmful consequences for those seeking safety here, but they also highlight the dangers of removing the ICIBI.

The Independent Chief Inspector was there to uncover these truths that nobody else has the authority to uncover.

It is a serious blow to our asylum system, the aims of the Welsh Government, wider democratic accountability and most importantly the welfare of sanctuary seekers that he has been unceremoniously sacked at this of all times.


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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
25 days ago

Rather than working to correct the problems in the Asylum System the government chose to sack the messenger for speaking the truth. Shameful

Elaine
Elaine
25 days ago

Mr Neal wrote about the reports in the Guardian shortly after being dismissed.
He said that there was new information about Rwanda which should be known to Parliament. I assume it’s contained in one, or both, of the still unpublished reports.
I’ve run out of words for this government, they can’t be gone soon enough.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
24 days ago

All the tories care about is the Rwanda policy, abdicating responsibility when this country (the uk) has been involved in conflicts that have led to asylum seekers and refugees (ASR) making their way to the uk. What is truly shameful is that the tories are choosing to not provide healthcare to ASR! At a former RAF base in Essex the organisations Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Doctors of the World (DOTW) are working together to provide the healthcare! I first read about MSF & DOTW working together here in the uk in the Morning Star, I haven’t seen anything in… Read more »

Glwyo
Glwyo
23 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Not to worry, the Rwanda plan is just a red rag to direct gammonite facebook posters anyway. It won’t amount to much, look at how effective the Tories have been at reducing immigration in their 13 years of government for proof.

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