Discrimination for being gay or a woman should not justify asylum – UK home secretary

Suella Braverman faces criticism over speech in US claiming threshold for refugee status is too low

The British Home Secretary has faced criticism for suggesting that fleeing discrimination for being gay should not be enough to qualify for asylum in the UK.

Suella Braverman, in comments that have been seized upon by her critics, will use a speech in the US to say that offering asylum to a person because they are gay, a woman or fearing discrimination in their home country is not sustainable.

Campaign group Freedom from Torture said any attempt by the UK government to “weaken protection” for the gay community was “shameful”.

The comments are expected to form part of Ms Braverman’s argument that the threshold for asylum has been steadily lowered since the United Nations’ Refugee Convention was ratified more than 70 years ago.


She will question whether the accord is “fit for our modern age” and ask allied administrations to consider if it is “in need of reform”.

She is set to tell a Washington, DC audience on Tuesday that there has been a “shift” in what qualifies as a basis for an asylum claim, with it moving from “persecution” to “discrimination” in a change that she will say has allowed millions more to potentially qualify for refugee status.

Ms Braverman’s decision to call into question the UN accord comes against a backdrop of domestic struggles to control irregular migration numbers.

The cabinet minister is tasked with helping to deliver the British prime minister’s pledge of stopping the boats from crossing the Channel – one of five commitments that Rishi Sunak hopes to deliver in advance of a likely election next year.

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

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

In her speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank, Ms Braverman will declare that no migrant crossing the Channel to Britain is in “imminent peril” and accuse some asylum seekers of “shopping around” for their “preferred destination”.

She will say that research indicates that the 1951 UN refugee accord – backed by 149 states – “now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people”, with the threshold for claiming asylum having been reduced over time.

Ms Braverman, according to a pre-briefed extract of her speech, will say: “I think most members of the public would recognise those fleeing a real risk of death, torture, oppression or violence as in need of protection.

“However, as case law has developed, what we have seen in practice is an interpretive shift away from ‘persecution’ in favour of something more akin to a definition of ‘discrimination’.

“And a similar shift away from a ‘well-founded fear’ toward a ‘credible’ or ‘plausible fear’.

“The practical consequence of which has been to expand the number of those who may qualify for asylum, and to lower the threshold for doing so.”

She will continue: “Let me be clear, there are vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman.

“Where individuals are being persecuted, it is right that we offer sanctuary.

“But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if, in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.”

Ben Bradshaw, a gay Labour MP and former cabinet minister, took aim at Mrs Braverman over her comments, pointing out that being homosexual in some countries can have deadly risks.

He tweeted: “Any LGBT or other Tories prepared to condemn Braverman for this?

“She doesn’t seem to grasp that simply being gay is enough to result in persecution or death in many countries.”

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “LGBTQI+ people are tortured in many countries for who they are and who they love, and their pain is no less than other survivors we treat in our therapy rooms.

“They deserve precisely the same protection too.

“For a liberal democracy like Britain to try to weaken protection for this community is shameful.”

According to UK Home Office data, sexual orientation formed part of the basis for an asylum claim in 1 per cent of all applications in 2021.

– PA