Carmichael reveals UK Stats Authority criticism of Prime Minister over asylum backlog claim

18 Jan 2024

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today challenged the Leader of the House in Parliament over revelations from the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) about misleading claims by the Prime Minister on the asylum backlog. The UKSA criticised Rishi Sunak over his claim to have “cleared” the asylum backlog earlier this month, despite the latest figures showing the total backlog of asylum cases is over 99,000.

In response to a letter from Mr Carmichael, the Chair of the UKSA Sir Robert Chote said voters may have been “misled” by Sunak’s claim and that it “may affect public trust.” Chote said that the average member of the public would assume from Sunak’s claim to have “cleared” the asylum backlog that the whole backlog had been cleared, adding that he was "not surprised that the government’s claim has been treated with scepticism and some people may feel misled.”

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:

“The House will recall that on 2 January the Prime Minister posted on X: ‘I said that this government would clear the backlog of asylum decisions by the end of 2023. That’s exactly what we’ve done.’ In fact, it was pretty soon apparent that they had done nothing of the sort, with more than 4,500 legacy applications still awaiting a decision.

“Accordingly, I took the matter to the UK Statistics Authority to seek its guidance, and this morning I received this reply from its chair, Sir Robert Chote:

“‘The average member of the public is likely to interpret a claim to have ‘cleared a backlog’—especially when presented without context on social media—as meaning that it has been eliminated entirely”.

“He goes on: ‘This episode may affect public trust when the Government sets targets and announced whether they have been met in the other policy domains.’

“Will the Leader of the House make time for the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary to come to the House and explain why, yet again, they have had their knuckles rapped for their use of statistics?”

Responding for the government, the Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt MP said:

“It is a good thing in our democracy that we do not mark our own homework. We have independent bodies that review statistics. We also have bodies that look at how statistics are presented, so that they are presented in the clearest possible way to members of the public. The right hon. Gentleman will know that massive progress has been made in that area. However, I will certainly ensure that the Home Office hears what he has said, as its question time has not yet been tabled.”

Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:

“Not only is the Conservative Government celebrating something that is no achievement, they are twisting the facts – as proven by the UK Stats Authority today.

“As the letter demonstrates, the Conservatives have not cleared the asylum backlog. Thousands of vulnerable people are still living in limbo as they wait for their claims to be processed. The public deserve better than this.”

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