Questions over Home Office role in immigration after Brexit

The Home Office may not be the right department to manage immigration policy after Brexit, argues a new report by the Institute for Government.

Published today, Managing migration after Brexit says the Home Office is not ready or able to meet the challenge of ending free movement after we leave the EU. The report lays bare the flaws in the immigration system that have led to a series of crises and to reorganisations designed to solve the last set of problems rather than address future needs. 

The report also points to other failings, including unrealistic targets, policies based on politics rather than evidence (such as the ‘hostile environment’) and poor decision making, meaning that over half of appeals against the Home Office are successful.

Major policy changes in the Home Office have also been implemented without adequate scrutiny by MPs and peers. For example, Parliament has had little say over the fact that the UK charges 20 times more to migrate here than does Canada and that some immigration fees have increased by 500% in recent years. The Home Secretary also has extensive powers over the decisions in individual cases - unlike any comparable minister.

All these concerns existed before Brexit. Leaving the EU will mean that responsibility for managing EU migration, vital to the UK economy after Brexit, comes under Home Office control. The report calls for a review into whether responsibility for immigration policy should continue to sit with the department.

The authors set out a six-point plan to improve migration policy:

  • The Government must agree clear objectives for the new immigration system after Brexit.
  • The Home Secretary must update Parliament each year on how far those objectives are met.
  • Immigration policy should be based on an understanding of the social and economic role that migrants play in the UK, rather than net migration targets. The Home Secretary should publish a comprehensive data strategy to make this analysis possible.
  • The Home Secretary should legislate to simplify immigration rules.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee should be more independent of the Home Office, reflecting its increasing importance.
  • The Home Secretary should immediately launch the review of the department that was promised last year, defining exactly what he means by a Home Office that is “fit for the modern world”.

Joe Owen, Associate Director at the Institute for Government and author of the report, said:

“As we end free movement from the EU, our migration policy must address the needs of the country but also the public confidence challenge. Ministers need to consider whether the Home Office is the right permanent home for a migration policy that needs to serve labour market needs, be fair and efficient in dealing with applicants, and provide the necessary degree of assurance to the wider public.”

Jill Rutter, Programme Director for Brexit, added:

“‘Taking back control’ of immigration means taking responsibility for the problems in the current system. The UK currently depends on workers from the EU to meet skills gaps and labour shortages. The task of managing immigration will completely change in both scale and importance once free movement ends.”

Stephen Hale OBE, Chief Executive of Refugee Action said:

“Institutional failures at the Home Office are literally a matter of life and death for people seeking asylum in the UK. This report lays out the scale of the problems and a clear way forward. The Home Secretary must act now, setting clear short and longer-term objectives for the department and UK immigration policy.”

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

“Investing in a system that works competently and effectively is key to rebuilding public trust on immigration. This welcome report lays bare the failings and underperformance of the Home Office and makes constructive recommendations to fix some of the most pressing issues.”


Notes to editors

  1. The report is available on our website
  2. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.
  3. For more information, please contact / 0785 031 3791.


Associated documents: