Michael Gove’s claim that the UK is the most migrant friendly country in the EU have been disputed following the publication of new figures on asylum applications.
The Environment Secretary insisted the government has a “positive, welcoming, liberal, forward-looking” approach to immigration in response to criticism over the Windrush scandal.
He said: “Something very striking was reported by the European Union, actually, a little earlier this year, which is that of all the countries in the EU, Britain is the country with the warmest attitude to migration from outside the EU.
“We’re the most immigration-friendly country in the EU.”
But figures published by the EU’s statistics authority today show the UK took in fewer asylum seekers per capita last year than more than a dozen EU countries.
Green MEP Caroline Lucas said they showed Mr Gove’s “boasting” didn’t reflect reality.
The Eurostat figures showed the UK granted asylum to granted asylum to 15,645 people in 2017, mostly from Eritrea, Iran and Afghanistan.
In total numbers, that put the UK behind only Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Sweden – although each of those countries accepted double the number of people than the UK and Germany took over 300,000 more.
But the UK trailed 13 EU countries when it came to the number of asylum seekers accepted per head of population.
The UK granted asylum to 240 people per million of population last year.
That was less than Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Sweden.
The starkest example of this could be seen in the numbers of Syrian asylum seekers accepted.
The UK took in 845, while Luxembourg, with a population of a little over half a million, accepted 450.
Hitting back at Mr Gove in light of the figures, Ms Lucas said: “It really does take some brass neck for Tory ministers to be touring the broadcast studios declaring Britain the most liberal EU country on immigration when they accept far fewer asylum seekers than many other European countries.
“Compared to other leading nations like Germany, Sweden and Austria, Britain is lagging far behind when it comes to granting asylum seekers the right to remain in Britain.
“We should be doing less boasting about our migration attitudes and reflecting on the cruelty of the policies in place which lock out those in need and threaten those with a right to be here with deportation.”