James Cleverly: Protests and asylum fill new Home Secretary’s bin

by MMC
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  • By Mark Easton
  • BBC Home Editor

James Cleverly arrived at the Home Office with a commitment to run the department on his own terms.

The role of Home Secretary is one of the most important positions in government, with responsibility for policing, immigration and national security.

Asked if he wanted to distance himself from the rhetoric of his predecessor, Suella Braverman, he replied: “I intend to do this work in the way that I believe best protects the British people and our interests.”

The new Minister of the Interior has a bulging entrance tray.

At the top of the list will be the legacy of the feuds sparked by pro-Palestinian protests. Downing Street reportedly wants him to immediately review police powers to make it easier to ban protests and prosecute those who glorify terrorism.

But it won’t be easy. Lowering the bar to ban protests would almost certainly result in a legal challenge that such a change would violate the right to freedom of assembly and association as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and enshrined in UK law .

Banning a protest march is only legal “in the interests of national security” or to prevent “serious public unrest.” Senior officers tasked with monitoring major protests would say that deciding when and where to arrest individuals is an operational matter.

There is a risk that using squads to arrest protesters for hate crimes will make public unrest more likely.

This judgment will be delivered on Wednesday morning and if the Interior Ministry loses, the new Interior Minister would face an immediate crisis.

Even if the government wins, the policy will likely lead to new legal challenges from individual asylum seekers trying to avoid being sent to Rwanda.

Mr Cleverly said the Prime Minister had made it clear to him that “he wanted to keep his promises, to stop the boats, to protect the British people, to make sure everyone felt safe in their lives”.

More than 26,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, significantly lower than at this time last year, but the government believes the threat of being sent to East Africa is the best way to stop smuggling gangs.

The new interior minister also inherits a crumbling asylum system, with 175,000 people awaiting a first decision on their applications and tens of thousands still in hotels, costing around 8 million pounds sterling per day.

An immediate dilemma for him is that the Home Office’s plan to move people from hotels to other accommodation includes a proposal to house 1,700 single male migrants at a former RAF base at Wethersfield, near Braintree in Essex.

It is in Mr Cleverly’s constituency and he has previously expressed opposition to the use of the site.

James Cleverly’s style is very different from that of Suella Braverman. At the Foreign Office, he seemed measured and diplomatic. It was a job he loved. When it was suggested that he might become defense secretary in a previous reshuffle, he said that if he was removed, “you will see nail marks on the floor of my office.”

He will need to take a different approach to reflect the government’s determination to crack down on crime and sanctions in the run-up to the next election.

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