'People game the system': Braverman doubles down on LGBT asylum seeker claims

The home secretary has hit back at Sir Elton John after he criticised her landmark speech on migration. ITV News' Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana has the latest after travelling with Suella Braverman on her trip to the US

For the past three days I have accompanied Suella Braverman on her trip to the US - where she met the attorney general and secretary for homeland security, senior drug enforcement officials, and police chiefs - discussing shared challenges in crime, child sex exploitation and drugs.

But the centrepiece of this trip, for her, was a speech on illegal migration where the key audience was not the small one inside the room - but millions of people back home.

Today, in an exclusive interview for ITV News and ITV1's Peston, the home secretary doubled down on the most controversial elements of her speech - that attracted the ire of key voices in the refugee sector but also Sir Elton John.

Sir Elton hit back at her suggestion that "simply being gay" wasn't enough to qualify for protection in the UK, writing that he and his partner, David Furnish, were "very concerned" as the comments risked "further legitimising hate and violence".

When I put those comments to Ms Braverman she was unapologetic, repeating her suggestion that gay people are trying to seek protection because of "discrimination" they face rather than "persecution" (although I have pointed out that homosexuality is punishable by death in 11 countries).

When I asked where the evidence was - given only 2% of asylum claims are based on a person's sexuality - she added: "What we see operationally is that people do game the system. They come to the UK, they purport to be homosexual in the effort to game our system, in the effort to get special treatment."

The comments are a sign of a ramping up of rhetoric ahead of an expected election next year in which the Tories see this as a key dividing line.

After all - Labour don't disagree on Rishi Sunak's other four pledges - to cut inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt and cut hospital waiting lists. But there is clear blue water on immigration.

Labour have talked about an EU returns agreement in which we would be able to send asylum seekers arriving in the UK to other parts of Europe, while accepting others in return. 

Ms Braverman made a clear hint in her speech that this was election focused when she talked about a majority of "red wall" seats supporting plans to stop migrants arriving by boat.

The risks her party face are two-fold: firstly the boats are still coming, and are likely to still be coming at the time of the next election. Which allows Labour to respond to tougher rhetoric with the easy hit - the policy isn't yet working.

And a further challenge to Ms Braverman is that her promise to reform the Refugee Convention is pretty difficult given that it requires a resolution at the UN general assembly with its 193 states.

And while she promises to do whatever it takes to stop the boats - it's clear from Home Office sources that leaving the convention isn't really on the table.

But the other risk is that while this policy is undoubtedly very popular with some voters - it is deeply divisive - and in equal part unpopular with others.

And there is a worry for Tories in the next election that gets worse the more they ramp up the rhetoric on immigration (or net 0 for that matter ), and it is the potential of a strong anti-Conservative vote in 2024.

I've shown on Peston a few times how that vote is stronger than it has been for some time.

And that can be damaging in an election - because tactical voting could also damage the Tories prospects.

What is clear is that migration and asylum issues will be central in the next election - with impacts in both a positive and negative way for Rishi Sunak's Tories.

You can watch Anushka Asthana's full interview with Suella Braverman on Peston, which airs on ITV1 at 11.15pm

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.