Modern slavery law ‘is biggest loophole’ for migrants

·4 min read
Former minister Chris Philp said he had witnessed Channel migrants denying they were victims of slavery only to change their story - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Former minister Chris Philp said he had witnessed Channel migrants denying they were victims of slavery only to change their story - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Theresa May’s modern slavery law has become one of the biggest loopholes allowing illegal migrants to escape deportation, a former immigration minister has said.

Writing for The Telegraph, Chris Philp said the Modern Slavery Act – introduced in 2015 – was being exploited by human rights lawyers to keep illegal migrants and foreign murderers and rapists in the UK.

Mr Philp said that, while immigration minister from 2019 to 2021, he had witnessed Channel migrants denying they were victims of slavery, only to change their story to avoid deportation after speaking to lawyers.

He called for a tightening of the law, saying it currently allowed “absurdly low levels” of proof of slavery and “no supporting evidence”.

Mr Philp said the problems stemmed from the UK’s “incredibly naive” application of a Council of Europe treaty to combat modern slavery. While France and Germany had applied a tighter definition of slavery claims, Britain was more lax – meaning it had 10 times the annual 1,000 to 2,000 claims of the two EU countries.

On Tuesday night, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, signalled a crackdown.

A Home Office source said her review of the Act would end low thresholds on proof, limit the number of claims and make sure the system was “about the recovery of victims rather than an open immigration route”.

Priti Patel will review the Act and end low thresholds on proof, a source said - (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament
Priti Patel will review the Act and end low thresholds on proof, a source said - (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

The Modern Slavery Act was introduced by Mrs May during her time as home secretary in order to protect vulnerable people from labour exploitation, domestic servitude or being trafficked for sex.

But Mr Philp said it had “inadvertently turned into one of the biggest loopholes in our immigration system, allowing illegal immigrants and foreign criminals to remain in the UK”.

He added: “Immigration lawyers know they don’t need to provide any real proof – just offer a vaguely plausible-sounding story that is roughly consistent with known modern slavery patterns and it will get accepted.

“In some cases they even submitted copy and paste claims for different clients without even bothering to change the details. It is making a mockery of our goodwill. I saw case after case where serious foreign criminals – including sadistic rapists and brutal murderers – used last-minute modern slavery claims to prevent deportation back to their home country.”

It comes after evidence of Albanians exploiting modern slavery laws emerged last week. They are the biggest nationality claiming to be slavery victims, while record numbers from Albania are reaching the UK by illegal Channel crossings.

Mr Philp said the disclosure had prompted him to lift the lid on scams as someone who “saw this play out across thousands of cases” when an immigration minister.

“Unfortunately, successive governments have been persuaded by self-appointed campaigners to lower the threshold of proof to accept a modern slavery claim to an absurdly low level,” he added.

The numbers allowed to stay had risen from 3,000 in 2015 to 16,000 this year, of which 90 per cent were approved because of the “lax” rules, he said, meaning foreign criminals could not be removed from the UK even if they had committed murder or rape.

He said modern slavery claims were “routinely” made by Channel migrants, despite them having told immigration officers on arrival that they were not slavery victims, adding: “The claim usually came shortly after meeting an immigration lawyer.”

Data show that a record 4,171 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the Home Office in the second quarter of this year, up 10 per cent on the last quarter and a 34 per cent rise in a year. Of these, 1,130 – or 24 per cent – were Albanians.

Under the Act’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) police, local councils, NGOs and specified government agencies are required to refer victims to Home Office experts who assess whether their cases merit support including accommodation, subsistence, legal aid and counselling.

A Home Office source said: “The Home Secretary will legislate to reform the NRM so that it will only look at cases in the UK, ensure thresholds are not set too low, limit number of claims that come forward, and that fundamentally the NRM should be about recovery of victims rather than an open immigration route.”

Both Tory leadership contenders backed the move on Tuesday. A spokesman for Liz Truss said: “It is right that Priti has started to overhaul our abused modern slavery laws. Liz would build on this work, closing loopholes that are abused by smugglers as we strengthen our nation's borders."

A spokesman for Rishi Sunak said: “Rishi has pledged to begin fundamental reform of the law around asylum in his first 100 days and will close any loophole preventing illegal immigrants and foreign national offenders from being deported.”