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Detention Action: Public opinion on side of senior Tories rebelling over indefinite detention

Public opinion on side of senior Tories rebelling over indefinite immigration detention

Boris Johnson faces a rebellion in Parliament over indefinite immigration detention in today's debate on the 2020 Immigration Bill, with a growing number of senior Conservative figures pushing reforms backed by the most recent public opinion polling and a vast body of independent evidence. The UK's policy of indefinite immigration detention has proved highly controversial with the British public, with a newly released ComRes poll showing that 56% agree with setting a time limit for immigration detention or scrapping it altogether in favour of community-based alternatives. The polling was conducted by ComRes, which surveyed 2,090 UK adults online between 8th and 10th March 2019, with the data weighted to be representative of all UK adults aged 18 and over (detailed results below). The former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis has tabled an Amendment to the 2020 Immigration Bill that would end the practice indefinite immigration detention by implementing a 28-day time limit and automatic judicial oversight. The reforms are supported by a growing number of Conservatives, including former cabinet ministers Andrew Mitchell and Steve Baker, former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, and Richard Fuller.

The proposed reforms also reflect a large body of evidence in favour of a time limit for immigration detention. In 2019 the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended a time limit of 28 days, noting that “[w]hile the indefinite nature of detention traumatises those who are being held, it also means that there is no pressure on the Home Office to make swift decisions on individuals’ cases.” Last year the Joint Committee on Human Rights and HM Inspector of Prisons also called for a time limit. In addition, analysis by Liberty and Cambridge Econometrics found that a 28-day time limit would save the taxpayer £35million per year. The Home Office currently detains around 24,000 people each year in immigration detention centres, the purpose of which is supposed to be to effect imminent removal from the UK. There is currently no limit on how long a person can be held in immigration detention in the UK. Detention Action's clients have been held recently for periods ranging from days to more than four and a half years. At the end of 2019 longest detention stood at 1,002 days and 62% of those taken into detention were eventually released back into the community rather than removed from the UK. Writing on Conservative Home yesterday Richard Fuller, Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, said that today's debate on the time limit Amendment would be an "opportunity to gauge the [Conservative] Party’s willingness to respect the liberties of the most excluded in our society." The time limit amendment is also backed by Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and the DUP. 

Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said: "This polling shows Boris Johnson’s indefinite detention policy is not supported by the majority of the British public and this should strengthen the resolve of MPs who will have the opportunity to vote for a time limit on immigration detention later today. Most people would like to see detention either scrapped or a 28 day time limit imposed. MPs who vote for this today will find themselves on the right side of public opinion and on the right side of history too.”


Detention Action is a national charity established in 1993 that seeks to defend the rights and improve the welfare of people in immigration detention by combining support for individuals with campaigning for policy change. Detention Action works in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs near Heathrow Airport in London, Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire, and with people held under immigration powers in London prisons. They work with around 1000 individuals held in detention each year.

Detailed poll findings:

  • Approaching three in five UK adults say that immigration detention with no time limit needs to change (56%) either with a time limit or being scrapped altogether, compared with three in ten who say it should stay as it is (30%).

  • Approaching half of UK adults say immigration detention should be allowed but with a strict time limit on the length of detention (46%), this is the most supported change of statements tested.

  • More than one in five UK adults say immigration detention should be scrapped altogether and replaced with community support schemes that manage immigration cases without the need for detention (22%).

  • Three in ten UK adults agree indefinite detention with no time limit should stay as it is (30%), while two in five disagree (42%) and one in ten don’t know (12%).

  • Significantly more women than men want change to indefinite detention currently in place in the UK (59% vs. 53% respectively).

  • Adults aged 18-34 want change to indefinite detention currently in place in the UK (61%), compared to over half of 35-54 (55%) and 55+ (53%).

  • Half of adults aged 65+ agree immigration detention should be allowed but with a strict time limit on the length of detention (49%), compared to two in five adults aged 45-54 who say the same (42%).

Read the Full Report here.

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