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An independent inquiry into Wayne Couzens and more powers to tackle Insulate Britain announced in Priti Patel Conservative conference speech


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Priti Patel addressed a host of issues directly impacting Kent at the Conservative conference. Political editor Paul Francis analyses her speech.

The announcement of an independent inquiry into Wayne Couzens was the headline-grabbing news amid the on-going debate about violence against women.

She did not spare the “systematic failings” of the police, saying that such an unconscionable act should never be allowed to happen again.

Her language was particularly tough, saying that recent tragic events had exposed unimaginable failures in policing.

“The public has a right to know what systematic failures enabled his continued employment as a police officer," she said.

"We need answers as to why this was allowed to happen.”

Of course, inquiries are often used by politicians to kick awkward issues into the long grass but in this particular case, there is a real sense that the government does indeed want to get answers sooner rather than later.

Although the Home Secretary has her critics, on this particular subject she has acquitted herself well.

Asylum seekers with two officials at Romney Marsh
Asylum seekers with two officials at Romney Marsh

There was no surprise that she doubled down on the government’s tough approach to curbing the numbers of asylum seekers arriving along stretches of the Kent coast.

The rhetoric was familiar as she described how the UK was getting control of illegal immigration - a claim that many might dispute as the images and video footage of the arrivals indicate anything but control.

While no-one would doubt her intentions to take a hard line - going so far as to suggest that the UK would push back boats to French waters - the issue has proved awkward for the government, particularly given that greater control over our borders was promised under Brexit.

In terms of additional action to tackle the issue, there wasn’t much that was new.

She let loose on “vile” criminal gangs, characterised by ruthlessness and greed, who even threatened to "drown small children to line their pockets".

Insulate Britain blockade the Port of Dover
Insulate Britain blockade the Port of Dover

She castigated the French authorities for not doing enough to stop people crossing the Channel, saying: “France is a safe country, one not riven by war or conflict. There is no reason why any asylum seeker should come to the United Kingdom directly from France.”

If there was something familiar about her soundbites, it was because they were ones she has often repeated.

She is not the first Home Secretary to announce an overhaul of the asylum system and probably won't be the last.

But in promising a quicker system, she clearly feels the public's patience is wearing thin.

For the moment, she can talk tough and the onset of Autumn is likely to see a decline in numbers crossing the channel.

Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office
Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office

It is quite likely that up until a week or so ago, she had not planned to announce measures to curb protesters from blocking key roads and causing mayhem and disruption for motorists.

The protests by the campaign group Insulate Britain have affected motorways and other key junctions in and around the county.

And there was a loud cheer when she unveiled plans to increase fines and give the police the authority to act to remove protesters where they are causing disruption.

She was careful to balance the right to protest against the right for people to go about their everyday business without disruption.

She announced plans to close loopholes exploited by the protesters along with an increase in the maximum penalties for disrupting a motorway and to criminalise interference with key infrastructure such as roads, railways and our free press.

The announcement was probably the one that proved most popular in the conference hall, demonstrating just how politics can be an unpredictable business.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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