The UK’s asylum system is broken. Everyone can agree on that. It is, after all, the stated position of the Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The question is: who broke it?

A reasonable person might think that, as the Conservatives have been in charge for the last 12 years, they would feature fairly near the top of the list of suspects.

But not for Conservative MPs, who blame “unprecedented” number of asylum applications and the Labour Party in some unspecified way that is never quite explained.

Neither of these pass a moment’s scrutiny.

Ipswich Star:

It is true that the number of people applying for asylum last year was relatively high compared to recent years, but it was by no means “unprecedented”.

In 2021, 48,540 people applied for asylum but in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were five years when it was higher – much higher – than that. In 2002 there were more than 84,000 asylum applications. But at no point during that time did the government of the day ever have to take the drastic step of commandeering the Novotel in Ipswich.

What’s different between now and then is that the number of asylum applications being decided has fallen off a cliff.

As recently as 2015, the Government were processing more than 28,000 applications a year. Last year the number was half that at just over 14,000.

That’s the equivalent of 70 Novotels the Government needs to take over to house the increase in people waiting for a decision because of this halving in performance.

You have to go back more than 30 years for there to be fewer applications processed.

The idea that Labour is in any way responsible for this is ludicrous.

The Conservatives clearly didn’t inherit a broken system from Labour in 2010.

The last Labour Government dealt with much higher levels of applications without ever having to turn the Novotel into a hostel. Over its term of office, it processed an average of 47,000 applications a year compared to fewer than 20,000 under the Conservatives.

Five years after the Conservatives took over from Labour the Home Office still had the capacity to process 28,000 claims a year. It’s only since then that performance has gone dramatically downhill.

Conservative MPs criticise Labour for not supporting their plans to reduce the backlog and imply that somehow this is making things worse but, again, this makes no sense.

The Conservatives have got a large majority in Parliament. They can pass whatever laws they want and there is nothing Labour MPs can say or do to stop them. Every law the Government has wanted to pass to deal with the issue has been passed.

And, whatever laws the Government has passed, they blatantly aren’t working. The system is in chaos. The backlog is growing bigger and bigger. Ministers favour acting tough over coming up with solutions that would actually work. Why on earth would Labour back their failing policies?

The Conservatives need to stop casting around for other people to blame and recognise their own responsibility for this mess. Until they do, they are never going to get a grip.

The tragedy is that this could all be so different.

Last week I outlined some long-term options for cooperatively working with other countries to reduce the number of people embarking on the hazardous crossing of the Channel.

But in the short term, the Government needs to quickly reduce the number of people who are already here and waiting for their cases to be determined. It can only do that by massively ramping up the number of asylum applications being processed.

I was pleased that Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper was able to visit Ipswich last week and confirm Labour’s plans to speed up processing of applications, take action against people-smuggling gangs and form a more co-operative relationship with the French authorities.

The Home Office admits it is spending £7m every day on hotels housing people waiting for their claims to be processed.

Just a week’s worth of that spending would pay for the number of immigration officers processing applications to be more than doubled for a year. They would bring down the backlog of cases dramatically, reducing the need to take over hotels like the Novotel and substantially reduce the Government’s housing costs.

It would also bring about a much more humane system where people are not stuck in hotels for months or even years on end, not able to work and with very little financial support, with no idea of when their application will be decided.

It doesn’t require ministers to look tough or ride around in Chinook helicopters. It doesn’t require people fleeing persecution and violence in their own countries to be demonised. It doesn’t require them to be sent abroad in schemes of dubious legality and even more questionable morality.

But it does require us to have a competent government that isn’t mired in chaos and infighting.

Is that too much to ask?