Sign up to our newsletter Join our membership and be updated daily!

What did Rishi Sunak mean by the modern slavery system

Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the UK, recently faced criticism for his language on migrant issues, especially after he said that people who come to the UK illegally will not be allowed to take part in the modern slavery system.

Sunak made the remark during a speech in the House of Commons on March 7, 2023, where he introduced the Illegal Migration Bill, a new legislation that aims to tackle the UK’s Channel crossing crisis. The bill proposes to create a two-tier system of asylum, where people who arrive in the UK through legal and safe routes will be given priority over those who enter illegally or use smugglers. The bill also seeks to increase penalties for people smugglers, remove barriers to deportation, and establish offshore processing centres for asylum seekers.

Sunak said that the bill was necessary to “take back control” of the UK’s borders and immigration system, and to protect the country from “illegal migration, human trafficking and modern slavery”. He said that the current system was “broken” and “unfair”, and that it encouraged people to risk their lives by crossing the Channel in small boats. He said that the bill would “send a clear message” to those who seek to enter the UK illegally: “You will not be welcome here. You will not be able to work here. You will not be able to access public funds here. And you will not be able to take part in our modern slavery system here.”

Sunak’s language on migrant issues has sparked backlash from opposition parties, human rights groups, and refugee advocates, who accused him of using inflammatory and dehumanising rhetoric. They said that Sunak was demonising vulnerable people who were fleeing persecution and violence, and that he was ignoring the UK’s legal and moral obligations to provide protection to those in need. They also said that Sunak was misleading the public by suggesting that most asylum seekers were illegal migrants or potential criminals, when in fact many of them had legitimate claims to refugee status. They said that Sunak was creating a false distinction between legal and illegal routes of asylum, when in reality there were very few safe and legal options for people to reach the UK.

Some critics also pointed out that Sunak’s language on migrant issues facilitates one of the challenges facing African and poorer countries in the loss of their skilled and educated youth to western countries, where they seek better opportunities and living standards. This effect, known as brain drain, deprives the countries of origin of their human capital and potential for development, while benefiting the countries of destination with their talents and contributions. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the share of skilled workers among immigrants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to Germany increased from 26% in 1991 to 52% in 2001. Similarly, the World Bank estimates that about one-third of Africa’s scientific and technical personnel live and work outside the continent.

The consequence of brain drain are varied and controversial, but some of the possible impacts include reduced tax revenues, lower innovation and productivity, weakened social cohesion, increased dependency ratio, and lower remittances in the countries of origin. On the other hand, some of the possible benefits include increased knowledge transfer, diaspora networks, foreign direct investment, trade links, and cultural diversity in the countries of destination.

Sunak’s controversial language on migrant issues has also raised questions about his political motives and ambitions. Some analysts have suggested that Sunak was trying to appeal to his core supporters and voters, who were mostly in favour of stricter immigration policies and Brexit. They said that Sunak was following the footsteps of his predecessor Boris Johnson, who also used populist and nationalist rhetoric to win elections and gain popularity.

Share with friends