UK's Sunak accused of 'barefaced lie' on having cleared asylum backlog: 'No idea where those people are'

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly under investigation by a government watchdog in the United Kingdom after claiming that a backlog of migrant asylum cases has been completely cleared. 

“I said that this government would clear the backlog of asylum decisions by the end of 2023. That’s exactly what we’ve done,” Sunak wrote on X Tuesday. “Over 112,000 cases are now cleared with a lower grant rate than last year, a key part of our plan to stop the boats.” 

Included on the post was a graphic that read, “Asylum Backlog Cleared.”

But the post was swiftly slapped with a Community Note saying, “The backlog has not been cleared.” It linked to a BBC article noting how new government figures actually show the asylum backlog stands at approximately 99,000. British Home Secretary James Cleverly admitted that of legacy cases, those made before June 28, 2022, about 4,500 “complex cases,” including some with security concerns, are ongoing. 

Opposition politicians also condemned Sunak’s claims to have cleared the backlog. 

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Sunak stop the boats campaign

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London, on Dec. 7, 2023, after Britain and Rwanda sign a new treaty to transfer illegal migrants to the African country. (James Manning/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Stephen Kinnock, immigration spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, wrote on X, “The PM’s barefaced lie that he has cleared the asylum backlog would be laughable if it wasn’t such an insult to the public’s intelligence. Statistics [published] this morning by his own Govt show there are still around 100,000 cases languishing in the Tories’ never-ending backlog.” 

“Having a de facto amnesty where you simply approve the majority of applications as ‘genuine’, and 17,000 people running off never to be seen again, does not count as reducing the asylum backlog,” Scott Benton, member of Parliament for Blackpool South, wrote on X. 

Labor MP Yvette Cooper wrote on X, “PM & Home Secretary claiming they’ve cleared the asylum backlog this morning. That’s just not true. It’s one of five Sunak broken promises on asylum & small boats this year – yet another year of Tory asylum chaos, of gimmicks instead of grip.”

Cooper continued, saying of the backlog of legacy cases, “4,500 cases not done, 17,000 ‘withdrawn’ by the Home Office but they’ve no idea where those people are.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly leaves London office

Home Secretary James Cleverly leaves the Millbank Studios in Westminster, central London, on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

Bloomberg reported that a spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Office for Statistics Regulation confirmed to the outlet that the agency is looking into Sunak’s announcement.

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The Home Office on Tuesday published updated official statistics relating to illegal immigration in the U.K. 

The government agency said there were more than 112,138 initial asylum decisions made on asylum cases between Jan. 1 and Dec. 28, 2023. During the same time period in 2022, there were just 31,766 initial decisions. Of the 112,138 initial asylum decisions, 77,019 were substantive decisions, including 51,469 grants and 25,550 refusals, which is a grant rate of 67% and represents the highest annual number of substantive decisions on asylum cases made since 2002, the Home Office said.  

The Home Office said 86,800 of those decisions were made on legacy applications, with a further 25,338 decisions on “flow applications.” 

migrant boats in UK

Migrants arrive at Dover Port after after being picked up in the channel by the border force on April 17, 2022, in Dover, England. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Of the 112,138 initial asylum decisions made between January to the end of December 2023, 35,119 were “non-substantive decisions” – up from 13,093 non-substantive decisions in 2022. Those non-substantive decisions include withdrawn or void or deceased applications. 

This comes as Sunak is facing mounting pressure to decide on a general election day as Conservatives are chased by growing Labor Party support in the polls, according to The Standard. Sunak, the U.K.’s third prime minister since Boris Johnson oversaw a landslide win for Conservatives in December 2019, recently remarked to journalists that “2024 will be an election year.”

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Sunak has made “stop the boats” one of his top priorities as his conservative government has pushed strict immigration laws to curb the flow of migrants who take perilous journeys from France to England, often in unseaworthy boats. Most of those who arrived on English soil by boat applied for asylum. The government has a large backlog in reviewing those applications.

Government figures released Tuesday also show the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in 2023 fell by more than a third from the previous year, marking the first decline since current record-keeping began, according to the Home Office. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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