Interviewer Nick Ferrari – who traces his own background to an immigrant in the catering industry – told the home secretary that under her own rules: “You wouldn’t be here.”
She replied: “Yeah, but also let’s not forget we are not changing our approach to refugees and asylum seekers, which is very different to a points-based system for employment and that particular route.”
Ms Patel later suggested that her family may have been dealt with under arrangements for those fleeing mistreatment abroad, rather than those for migrant workers, as they had faced persecution in Uganda.
Her parents came to the UK from the east African state in the 1960s and set up a chain of newsagents. However, their arrival came before dictator Idi Amin’s mass expulsion of Uganda Asians in 1972, which saw many families forced to flee the country and admitted to the UK under their status as colonial citizens.
The home secretary initially attempted to dodge the question of whether her own family would have been affected by the new immigration rules.
Ferrari told her: “The side of my family on my father’s side were in catering, so I don’t know if I would actually be in this country under these rules. Would you, with your parents?”
She replied: “This isn’t about my background or my parents.”
But Ferrari persisted: “But it is interesting, would they have qualified? Your parents, I understand, came from Uganda and were very successful in setting up newsagents. They wouldn’t have qualified would they?”
Ms Patel replied: “This is a very different system to what has gone on in the past and don’t forget this is a points-based system based on the labour market.”
Ferrari replied: :But you wouldn’t be here, home secretary.”
At that point, Ms Patel appeared to accept that her system – which grants points for skills, having a job offer and working in an in-demand sector – would have excluded her parents, telling the presenter: “Yeah, but also let’s not forget we are not changing our approach to refugees and asylum seekers, which is very different to a points-based system for employment and that particular route.”
Ferrari told her: “It’s very interesting, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be sitting in my studio and you wouldn’t be Home Secretary, in one of the biggest offices in the land, under your system.”
Ms Patel responded: “The policies are changing. This is the point. We are changing our immigration policy to one that’s fit for purpose for our economy, based on skills.
“This is not about refugees and asylum and people being persecuted around the world. We must differentiate between the two.”
Ms Patel later told BBC Radio 5 Live that her parents had faced persecution in Uganda, pointing out that the changes she is introducing do not affect the way in which the UK will deal with people fleeing persecution overseas.
“This is not about changing rules on asylum and refugees and people that are being persecuted around the world – the two are fundamentally different so I think it is wrong to conflate the two,” said the home secretary. “My family were persecuted in East Africa so there is a complete difference between the two.”