WE all know Britain is not on top of the immigration situation.
So Rishi Sunak committing to clearing 92,000 asylum backlog cases — from an overall pile of just under 149,000 — by the end of this year was great news.
The Home Office is writing to 12,000 people who made a claim before June 2022, inviting them to fill out a ten-page questionnaire, instead of having to sit through an interview to have their asylum status approved.
It will apply to those from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen — cases where the approval rate for asylum claims is generally more than 95 per cent.
It also includes those who arrived by small boat across the Channel.
But while the aim is laudable, I am sorry to say that I cannot get behind Rishi’s new fast-track scheme.
I think it is dreadful that migrants will basically be able to fill out a form and be allowed to stay in the UK.
According to some officials, the “vast majority” of cases will go ahead without an asylum interview.
Others say dropping interviews with asylum seekers indicated the Home Office was prepared to “take a bit of a risk in order to get the backlog down”.
But “a bit of a risk” is absolutely terrifying — and I am not surprised that it has been dubbed by some as an “amnesty in all but name”.
You can’t ignore the fact that there have been a number of cases of asylum seekers from some of the five countries covered by the scheme who have committed serious crimes in the UK.
They include Afghan asylum seeker Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai, who stabbed aspiring Royal Marine Tom Roberts to death in a row over an e-scooter in Bournemouth last year.
Abdulrahimzai posed as a 14-year-old boy to gain entry into the UK in 2019, but in reality he was a 19-year-old man wanted by Serbian police for gunning down two people with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Last month he was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years for Mr Roberts’ murder.
And we can’t ignore the fact that this new scheme will push up immigration figures, because once these 12,000 have been granted refugee status they may be able to bring relatives here through the family reunion scheme.
A country overwhelmed
If we absolutely need to resort to a questionnaire, those questions need to be blunt.
And it is terrifying to think that without a face-to-face interview, we have to completely trust that they are telling the truth on a form.
The problem of immigration in this country cannot be solved by simply letting everyone in.
People are not worried about the amount of people “on the list”.
It’s the sheer volume of people coming in, and also the cost of that to all of us, that is worrying.
We are a country already overwhelmed as it is by UK citizens who are vulnerable and homeless.
We have a cost-of-living crisis. We have food shortages and we can’t even see a GP. Forget trying to see a dentist.
Our welfare system only works if you pay in when you are working and take out only when you need to.
It cannot work if you pay nothing in and just take out.
So the answer is not waving people through to cut waiting lists but trying to make sure that those who do come in have a right to be here.
And to do that face-to-face questions are needed . . . not just a simple questionnaire.
HARVEY WEINSTEIN told a court this week that he had been “set up” as he was sentenced to 16 more years in prison after being convicted of raping an actress in a Los Angeles hotel room in 2013.
The 70-year-old disgraced film producer already has more than 20 years left to serve on his sentence in New York after a separate 2020 conviction there.
I find it sickening that he continues to claim he is innocent.
He pleaded with the court this week: “Please don’t sentence me to life in prison . . . I don’t deserve it.”
He really is revolting, isn’t he. I met him about seven years ago, he was scruffy, needed a shower and rude.
He actually made my skin crawl.
FOOTIE PLAN IS FULL OF HOLES
AS football fans will already know, last week it was confirmed that a new independent football regulator will be introduced to help protect the future of the English game.
The regulator will have “targeted powers”.
It will step in to resolve how money flows from the Premier League down the football pyramid, if this cannot be agreed between the nation’s clubs, and will stop clubs from joining European Super League-style breakaway leagues.
There are two schools of thought in response to this news.
Some people see it as a sensible precaution to protect fans and clubs.
Others see it as dangerous over-regulation that could threaten the Premier League, the jewel of the British game.
Personally, I agree with some aspects, like greater supporter engagement.
Football is nothing without the fans – it is literally the reason clubs exist.
But there are questions that remain unanswered.
Who will the new independent regulator be, for a start?
It’s all vague
Who appoints them (and will the appointment be politically motivated?).
Oh, and what they will know about football?
There are many other questions too: What power will the new regulator have, and will these powers change at some point, in which case who will change the powers and what process will that take?
But also, what are its objectives? In other words, it’s all very vague.
It appears the clubs – rather than the taxpayer – will pay for the regulator.
But how much will it cost? One minister told me it will have between 150-200 people.
Whatever it costs will mean money coming out of football to pay for a regulator.
Also, how will it be judged and who will it be accountable to?
The answers to these questions remain to be seen.
But in the meantime one thing I really do welcome is that the European Super League can never be formed with English clubs again.
I also welcome visa reform for elite footballers (both male and female).
Our current points system makes it virtually impossible to recruit players from overseas, which means we have to buy them from other European clubs who have recruited them for little money before we end up paying huge transfer fees.
When it comes to the owners and directors test, I can see how this could sit outside of the PL/EFL and FA.
But there is not a test in the world that would have stopped Bury going bust.
World of sport is changed – for the better
WE said farewell this week to two football greats: Dickie Davies and John Motson, who famously claimed that female vocal tones can be too high for footie commentary – especially when a goal is scored.
That may have been an outrageous thing to say but he was a lovely man. A true gentleman.
He came to West Ham a lot. In fact, I saw him only a few weeks ago when he seemed fine and in good spirits.
He was always chatty, very sociable and had time for everyone.
That said, while old all-male-dominated TV sport pundits were much-loved, I can see why some people describe them as dinosaurs.
How could anyone dispute that there is a much better mix today with so many brilliant female presenters too?
MAGIC MIND BLOWN
I AM a complete sceptic when it comes to anything magic, psychic or mystical.
So I cannot emphasise enough how cynical I was when I bought tickets to Derren Brown’s new show last week for myself and my son, who is a big fan.
But I can report that it really is mind-blowing.
You are not allowed to tell anyone what happens at the show, although I can say that it’s not a magic show – it’s much, much more than that.
Beyond that, I am afraid you will have to take my word for the fact that it is mind-blowing – and Derren is incredible.
The show is called Showman and I can see why.
He is a great “host” and it’s incredible to see people hypnotised so effectively.
The tickets were expensive but, believe me, they were worth every penny.
MALES SAY, I DO
IS everyone else as unsurprised as I am that marriage is great for men . . . but not so much for women?
New research has shown that being married may actually help men live longer.
Lifelong bachelors are twice as likely to die from heart failure as men who get married, partly because they have no one close to them looking out for their health.
Meanwhile, for women, there was no link between marital status and their risk of death from heart failure.
Whereas men often rely on their wives to remind them to adopt healthy habits or take medication, experts believe that women are more capable of looking after themselves (as well as looking after their men).
So precisely no surprises there then.