Millions of asylum seekers are being incentivised to “try their luck” in a system that poses an existential threat to the West if it is not reformed, the Home Secretary has said.

Suella Braverman, giving a speech on migration in the United States, said it was time for the “definition of who qualifies for protection” to be “tightened” as she advocated for changes to international treaties governing refugee rules.

Without a major overhaul and international co-operation, the senior Conservative warned that developed nations face being wiped out by a wave of economic migration.

She said uncontrolled and irregular migration was “an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West”.

“Just as it is a basic rule of history that nations which cannot defend their borders will not long survive, it is a basic rule of politics that political systems which cannot control their borders will not maintain the consent of the people, and thus not long endure,” she said during a speech made in Washington DC on Tuesday.

Mrs Braverman said European and United Nations’ accords on refugee rights could be a struggle to update due to the unwieldy task of getting member states to agree on changes.

But she said there was also a “more cynical” reason for not broaching reforms, arguing there was a “fear of being branded a racist or illiberal”.

In pre-briefed comments that were seized upon by critics, she said offering asylum to a person because they are gay, a woman or fearing discrimination in their home country is not sustainable.

Mrs Braverman, addressing the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank, said a worldwide poll by US analytics company Gallup found that 4% of adults who wanted to permanently leave their homeland – approximately 40 million people – had named Britain as their preferred destination.

“The global asylum framework is a promissory note that the West cannot fulfil,” she warned.

“We have created a system of almost infinite supply, incentivising millions of people to try their luck, knowing full well that we have no capacity to meet more than a fraction of demand.”

Cumulative arrivals by people crossing the English Channel in small boats
(PA Graphics)

Mrs Braverman argued that the threshold for asylum has been steadily lowered since the UN Refugee Convention was ratified more than 70 years ago.

She questioned whether the 1951 accord is “fit for our modern age” and asked allied administrations to consider whether it is “in need of reform”.

The decision to rally against multilateral treaties comes against a backdrop of domestic struggles to control irregular migration.

The Cabinet minister is tasked with helping to deliver the Prime Minister’s pledge of stopping the boats from crossing the Channel — one of five commitments that Rishi Sunak hopes to deliver ahead of a likely election next year.

Almost 24,000 migrants have arrived into the UK via small boats since January.

The official annual arrivals number, while down 26% from the same period in 2022, is likely to rise after people thought to be migrants were spotted being brought in to Dover, Kent, on Tuesday.

During her Stateside speech, the Home Secretary declared that no migrant crossing the Channel to Britain was in “imminent peril” and accused some asylum seekers of “shopping around” for their “preferred destination”.

She suggested those arriving from a safe country should “cease to be treated as refugees”.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Taking aim at advocates of multiculturalism, the Home Secretary said she supported immigration, having been the child of immigrants herself, but claimed that uncontrolled migration risked a threat to nationhood and national security due to a lack of integration.

She said migration had been “too much, too quick” to the UK in the past 25 years, with “too little thought given to integration and the impact on social cohesion”.

“If cultural change is too rapid and too big, then what was already there is diluted — eventually it will disappear,” she added.

Mrs Braverman used her US-platform to defend the UK’s approach to tackling migration via unauthorised routes.

The Illegal Migration Act – which has been criticised by the UN’s refugee agency – legislated for those arriving via the Channel to be deported to their country of origin, or to Rwanda after ministers struck a £140 million deal with the east African country.

But the Kigali plan is tied up in the courts, with a deportation flight yet to take off.

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats one of his top five priorities (Hollie Adams/PA)

The Home Secretary said the UK’s Rwanda policy should be “recognised as appropriate” and said it was “right” for countries to act bilaterally rather than wait for international reforms to be agreed.

The right-wing politician has previously taken aim at the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), signed in 1950, claiming it restricted the Government’s efforts to introduce policies such as the Rwanda scheme.

She appeared to keep the door open to potentially leaving the ECHR, as some Tory MPs have called for the Government to do.

“Any attempt to reform the refugee convention will see you smeared as anti-refugee,” she said.

“Similar epithets are hurled at anyone who suggests reform of the ECHR or its court in Strasbourg.

“I reject that notion that a country cannot be expected to respect human rights if it is not signed up to an international human rights organisation.

“(It is) as if the UK doesn’t have a proud history of human rights dating back to Magna Carta, and the ECHR is all that is holding us back from becoming Russia.

“America, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan seem to manage just fine.”