As our Q and A was cancelled by HQ, we have put some written questions to both leadership candidates, we now have answers from both candidates.
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Questions from LD4SOS to candidates
- How would you as leader work with the AOs and SAOs to make best use of their expertise and contacts to promote the party and its values, ideas and policies?
|The key thing with working with AOs and SAOs is building proper lines of communication between spokespeople and the relevant organisations. We have to ensure that we are taking advantage of the incredible expertise that we have across the party.
We are all on the same side, and if we can build that communication so that AOs and SAOs can be looped into our work in Parliament and vice versa then that will help us promote the incredible work that organisations like LD4SOS do.
|Throughout this campaign I’ve set out how I want to harness the fizz of our members’ ideas again, to build a progressive, liberal message that appeals to a broad base. Groups like Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary are an integral part of that vision.
This issue is central to our identity. So as we rejuvenate our party from the bottom up I’ll work with you to ensure our voice is informed by evidence and the experiences of those we’re fighting for. If we’re serious about building a society where no one is left behind we need to recognise the needs of refugees not just in our asylum policies but across the board, whether that’s housing, welfare or education.
I also want us to live our values and look like the communities we want to represent. So I’ll draw on your guidance to help ensure people who came to this country as refugees have a chance to participate at every level in our party.
- With 52,000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their claim to remain in the UK, many will be waiting for years rather than months for a decision. What would be your solution to this problem?
|Firstly, we have got to be honest that our asylum system needs more investment. I strongly believe it is an area worth investing in because our country should be proud of welcoming people who are fleeing war, poverty, persecution or natural disasters. That is a case I am ready to make as leader.
Furthermore, investing wisely will save public money in the long run. A huge proportion of asylum rejections end up being overturned on appeal, because of poor decision making or because people were not initially given the right assistance to navigate the system. Investing in better handling of cases and good quality legal support at an early stage will help us get things right first time, making the asylum process quicker, fairer and more cost-effective.
At the same time, we need to get better at supporting people who are waiting for a decision. I don’t know anyone who can reasonably live on £5.39 a day. And it is scandalous that asylum seekers are still banned from working. All the evidence shows that lifting the ban on work would help people to support themselves, integrate into their communities and contribute to our economy. I will make it a priority for our party and work with others to fight for it in parliament.
|There isn’t a single solution to this, but as LD4SOS have said themselves there are several steps you can take in order to speed up application processing. To just focus on one, if we provide better translation and interpretation services at each stage then we can hopefully make sure that the process is easier to follow, and delivers more correct decisions first time. This would also help to reduce the number of appeals which contribute to the backlog, and provide people with more certainty and less stress during the process. The Liberal Democrat Manifesto also calls for a dedicated unit for asylum decisions to improve speed and quality, and that is something I would push for.|
- How would you tackle the Home Office’s ‘culture of disbelief’ in respect of LGBT+ asylum seekers? And would you prioritise resettlement of LGBT+ asylum-seekers given that spaces such as refugee camps are often unsafe for them?
|I’ve talked before about how I want the Government to do more to help LGBT+ people fleeing persecution, and part of that is better training for staff who are dealing with more vulnerable groups. That falls into our wider call for a proper review and reform of asylum policy, that includes taking the responsibility away from the Home Office and giving more powers to other departments. We should also never refuse an application from an LGBT+ individual on the basis that they could be discreet.
In terms of reprioritisation, we should always look to make sure that we are protecting those who are most at risk from harm, whether that is LGBT+ or other groups.
|For years we have been fighting the government to improve treatment of LGBT+ asylum seekers, but they still are not tackling the culture of disbelief and we are actually seeing more claims being rejected.
The solution requires a complete overhaul of how we handle cases. Those making the decisions need to have really thorough training covering different cultures, identities and spectrums. They should be able to quickly draw on expertise from organisations with experience in these areas. A tick-box approach simply is not good enough, because how someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is presented will vary hugely depending on the individual, their background and their circumstances. It is certainly unlikely to fit the narrow Western stereotypes we still see being used in the asylum system.
Perhaps most importantly though, we need to shift the burden of proof. The onus should be on our officials to understand the situation someone is fleeing from, rather than setting an impossibly high bar for them to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity and why they are in danger. I am not pretending this will be easy, but we cannot afford not to fix the system. It is staggering hypocrisy to fly the rainbow flag for our embassies around the world, while sending LGBT+ people back to countries where they’ll face persecution, violence or even death.
I completely agree that when it comes to resettling people directly from refugee camps, we should be prioritising those who are most at risk and this often includes LGBT+ people. We also need to be prioritising LGBT+ rights in our foreign policy, particularly concerning Commonwealth countries where the UK has an extra responsibility given the colonial-era laws that are still used to persecute people.
4. How would you promote our existing policies on asylum, and tackle any policy gaps that appear when new asylum-related issues appear, given that the media will expect an instant response from the leader?
|I am proud that our party champions the rights of refugees. While the Conservatives resort to dehumanising rhetoric in defence of their hostile environment and Labour simply remains silent, it is the Liberal Democrats who are passionately fighting on behalf of people seeking sanctuary here in the UK.
These values will underpin my leadership and shape our response to new issues as they arise. I will also make sure we listen to the experts – whether that is NGOs doing such amazing work to support people on the frontline or the UN Rapporteur who called out forced destitution in the UK’s asylum system. Again Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary will play an important role here.
I believe that our society is fundamentally welcoming and tolerant. It is not reflected by the xenophobic approach of this government. By working from the bottom up and engaging with local communities across the country, I am confident that we can win more people over and build support for humane asylum policies that give people a chance to thrive.
|I want to stand up for liberal, internationalist values that are the foundation of our party. As we have seen with the recent channel crossings, or the ‘no recourse to public funds’, these issues are continually present in our news agenda.
I’ve always been proud that our party has stood up for those internationalist values, all the way from Paddy Ashdown fighting for the rights of Hong Kongers to our recent campaign to Stop Brexit in order to save freedom of movement.
There are millions of people who share our view about having an open-hearted view of immigration, and I want those people to know that it is the Liberal Democrats who are the party for them.
- How would you as leader respond to the arrival of climate refugees in the UK?
|The climate emergency is one of the biggest global challenges we face and how we respond to the impact it will have on people forced out of their homes is a crucial part of tackling it.
There are two responses we need, the first is around the open, internationalist approach to refugees and asylum seekers that I have talked about and the second is our approach to tackling the climate emergency.
I want our Government to be a world leader on the climate emergency precisely because of the impact it will have on other issues. I want to invest £150bn in green technology in the UK, but I want the UK to also be making the case on the global stage, as we did when we had Liberal Democrats in Government. I am proud of the work I did at the UN and in Europe getting international agreement on climate issues, and it’s that level of ambition we need to have again if we are going to tackle the impacts climate change brings.
|We are already seeing a rapidly growing number of people forced to flee their homes by drought, disasters or conflict linked to the climate and nature emergencies. As a country we need to play our part in helping them.
Firstly, this means ensuring our asylum system is fit for purpose by dealing with the kind of issues I have outlined earlier. We need humane, efficient policies that will allow climate refugees to find sanctuary here and take part in our society, rather than facing a maze of bureaucracy and hostility like so many people do today.
Secondly, we need to work with our European neighbours and other international partners on establishing safe and legal routes for people to reach safety. The past few years have seen more people displaced than at any time since the Second World War. As this number continues to rise, we have to protect people from dangerous journeys or falling into the hands of traffickers.
Finally, I want us to tackle the causes of this displacement by increasing our aid budget from 0.7% to 1% of GDP , with the extra 0.3% ring fenced for spending on climate and the environment, while making our own society carbon negative by 2045.
6. Covid-19 has shown that releasing people does not lead to absconding and reduces mental ill health for the migrants and costs for taxpayers. How far would you go in reducing the use of immigration detention in this country and what would you put in its place?
|As a society we simply must do better than locking up people who have fled their homes to seek sanctuary here. Immigration detention not only causes serious and long-lasting harm to those who have their liberty taken away, detention centres also have a really negative impact on the surrounding communities which have to live in their shadow.
I successfully fought to close down Campsfield House in my constituency and as leader I’d fight to end immigration detention for good. We have seen more than ever during the pandemic how people can be safely and easily released into the community. And there is an abundance of evidence that continuing to warehouse people in prison-like conditions is not only cruel but also an incredible waste of money.
Investing in community case-management means that people can receive better and more cost-effective support while they are waiting for a decision. There are lots of different models which we should be open to exploring, but it’s painfully clear that the current approach just isn’t working and as a party we should be ambitious about ending it.
|I am absolutely clear that detention should be a last resort, and should not be used on vulnerable people including survivors of torture and victims of trafficking. It is inhumane to detain people for months on end without them knowing how long they will be there.
I want to see a 28-day limit on detention, with a requirement for a judge to approve detention of longer than 72 hours. That would help to reduce the financial burden from the detention, as well as the compensation claims from wrongful detention as well.
- How would you maximise the opportunity the pandemic has given us to create a more open and tolerant society which welcomes people from overseas for the contribution they can make to Britain?
|This is an excellent question, because I think Covid has shown just how reliant we are on the contribution that people from overseas make to so much of society. Even if you just look at our NHS and social care system, foreign workers are the backbone of the system that has saved so many lives in this pandemic, and we have to do more to recognise that.
I think the first stage is making sure that we are the party who are fighting for a better deal for the people working in those sectors, including from overseas. That is what sits behind my plan for a new deal for carers, so that we can properly value and reward the work they do.
I will always make the case for the positive impact that immigration has had on enriching our country, and on promoting our liberal belief that immigration is a good thing.
|Most of us recognise that every single part of our society is strengthened by people who have come from all over the world to make this country their home.
That has never been clearer than during the past few months. So many of our frontline workers and medics come from overseas and too many of them paid the ultimate price. As chair of the cross-party inquiry into coronavirus I’m committed to ensuring their contribution and sacrifice is properly acknowledged.
Now is the moment to push our bold liberal vision and progressive policies locally and nationally, from welcoming more refugees at council level, to opposing Boris Johnson’s regressive Immigration Bill in Parliament.
We can’t afford to be complacent. Because already we’re seeing fresh attempts to create stigma and division, whether it’s the Tories insultingly branding heroic key workers “low skilled migrants” or Nigel Farage disgracefully calling the tiny number of desperate refugees crossing the English Channel an “invasion”. As leader I will make sure our party is at the forefront of fighting back against this appalling rhetoric and calling out disinformation.
As we do this I want to involve more members from migrant or refugee backgrounds at every level in our party. We also need to be ambitious in areas like the right to work, English language provision, and community sponsorship so that more communities have the opportunity to engage with migrants and refugees, and understand the phenomenal contribution they make.
- In order to make the UK treatment of asylum seekers and refugees more humane would you give priority to cross party collaboration to make this happen? If so, how would you go about this?
|We need to work better and closer with other progressive politicians, particularly in areas like this.
When we were debating the Immigration Bill I put my name to an amendment on ending indefinite detention with MPs from across the house, including some Conservatives who agreed that the current law is ineffective and inhumane.
Similarly, I worked with MPs from different parties in bringing Greta Thunberg to Parliament and holding the government to account over the climate emergency, including how it is displacing people from their homes.
Local politics has a really important role here too, especially around things like resettlement opportunities and support for unaccompanied children. So as leader I’ll support cross-party cooperation to support refugees at all levels of politics.
However, it is essential that we never compromise our values. The Liberal Democrats have consistently stood out in British politics as a progressive voice in support of refugees, while other parties have failed. I am proud of that record and want us to strengthen it under my leadership.
|I will always be willing to work on a cross-party basis to deliver a fairer, more humane immigration system. However, often it is the Liberal Democrats who have ploughed a lone furrow in making the positive case for immigration against Labour and Tory parties that have been more interested in sounding tough on rhetoric than delivering meaningful change.
I will continue to make our case, and if others wish to work with us to push forward that agenda then I would be happy to work with them as I always have done on issues where we can agree.