“The Scottish Government are refusing to take any of the asylum seekers who are arriving in the UK on small boats” – Robert Jenrick, Home Office immigration minister, December 19.


Glasgow Council, under an SNP administration, has consistently taken more asylum seekers than local authorities in most of England, and especially the affluent south-east. But the refusal of the Conservative government to properly fund the dispersal of asylum seekers, and the dubious role of Tory-appointed private contractors involved in the process, has made Glasgow and other Scottish councils reluctant to accept more immigrants than they can handle.


Jenrick was educated at Cambridge University before working (in Moscow) for a big American corporate law firm. The firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, specialises in representing tobacco firms. Jenrick was elected MP for Newark in 2014 when the sitting Tory resigned after a “cash for lobbying” scandal. Jenrick has held numerous junior ministerial posts and was appointed Minister of State for Health by Liz Truss.


During an exchange in the House of Commons on 19 December 2022, Robert Jenrick, the UK immigration minister, accused the Scottish Government of refusing to take asylum seekers arriving in across the Channel on small boats. Mr Jenrick claimed that only Glasgow is doing its “fair share” in taking asylum seekers in Scotland. He said that “only a dozen” hotels outside of Glasgow are taking asylum seekers. Jenrick also claimed there was a “widening gulf” between the Scottish Government’s action and rhetoric on immigration matters.


The UK Government denies immigrants with an unclear status the right to normal social security and housing benefits and bans them from working. This leaves them open to destitution. In February 2019, The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) in concert with the Scottish Government, issued a new guidance note to members outlining how councils can in fact provide support for destitute immigrants.

The directive clarified that there is no general, legal prohibition on Scottish local authorities using public funds to prevent destitution among asylum seekers. On the contrary, under Scottish law, local government has a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable people, including immigrants. As a result, Scottish councils are delivering lifeline services for immigrant families with children; women who have become destitute after fleeing abuse; adults in need of residential care who are unable to leave the UK because of ill health; and former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have been refused refugee status. Note: official data shows that some two thirds of immigrant households that councils support are eventually granted leave to remain in the UK.

READ MORE: Scotland needs to escape the Tories' hostility to immigration and asylum seekers

Mr Jenrick seems unaware that the SNP dominate Scottish local government, had 452 councillors elected in 2022 (by far the largest bloc compared with Labour’s 282 and 214 for the Tories), and leads Cosla itself. Scottish councils have gone out of their way to support asylum seekers while being refused the cash to do so by Westminster. Mr Jenrick is guilty of the pot calling the kettle black.


Glasgow Council has had an SNP administration since 2017. A report by the University of Oxford found that Glasgow took in more asylum seekers than anywhere else in the UK from 2018 to the middle of 2019 (the start of the pandemic). This Migration Observatory report noted that in the year to June 2019, Glasgow took in more than 4000 asylum seekers, while 150 other regions in the UK did not house any whatsoever. The same report found that the affluent south east and east of England housed the fewest asylum seekers.

The National: The City Chambers and George Square, Glasgow.

In March 2019, Glasgow’s SNP council championed a proposal to the UK Government to allow asylum seekers dispersed to Glasgow to work in the city from six months after their asylum claim has been submitted until final determination of their application. The council noted that this would enable asylum seekers “to use their skills to support themselves, as well as easing pressure on local social care services”. Mr Jenrick’s government ignored the overture.


Mr Jenrick obfuscates the role of Scottish local authorities in providing housing for asylum seekers. The Home Office disperses asylum seekers throughout the UK (regardless of how they enter the country). Given the lack of available council housing stock (after years of Tory cuts) the Home Office uses rented hotels to provide temporary accommodation for asylum seekers. This began during the pandemic and hotel use has been accelerated as the number of migrants arriving in small boats across the Channel has multiplied exponentially this year.

READ MORE: Plea for 'urgent' change to asylum system after small boat tragedy

The housing of these asylum seekers in hotels is outsourced to a private company called the Mears Group. In 2019, Mears won a £1.2 billion Home Office contract to provide asylum seeker housing in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire and the Northeast of England. This made Mears the UK’s biggest refugee landlord. Since 2019, Mears has been the subject of repeated criticism by immigrant and housing charities for its handling of asylum seeker housing.

In 2021, Glasgow Council introduced a temporary ban on accepting new asylum seekers after a mass stabbing at a hotel for asylum seekers. Council leader Susan Aitken told the BBC the ban would continue while the scheme was run "on the cheap".

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There is a glaring contradiction at the heart of Tory policy in regard to asylum seekers. Asylum seekers cannot receive a decision on their asylum application until they are in dispersed accommodation. But the lack of dispersed accommodation – because Westminster won’t fund local authorities adequately – means asylum seekers have been placed in hotels temporarily. The latter, of course, still means the Home Office paying outside contractors. The obvious solution is to fund local authorities adequately. Councils across the UK have been making the same point.


Mr Jenrick implies that Scotland is reluctant to take immigrants and refugees. In January 2020, the SNP government published proposals for a new Scottish Visa to address depopulation issues and provide increased skills

The proposals were designed to work within the existing devolution settlement. Migrants wanting to live in Scotland could choose to apply for a Scottish Visa, or one of the existing immigration routes offered by the UK Government. Residence in Scotland and maintaining a Scottish tax code would be a requirement for such a visa. However, despite representations, the current Conservative administration at Westminster has rejected the idea of a Scottish Visa out of hand.


In his statement on December 19, Mr Jenrick stated flatly that: “The UK is essentially full." Clearly, the Home Office minister lacks a sense of irony. It is difficult to reconcile his attack on the Scottish Government for allegedly not doing enough to take in immigrants with the Tory claim that Britain – not Scotland – is “full”.


A fat zero to Mr Jenrick for talking like the corporate lawyer he is.

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