A new plan to ban refugees arriving in the UK by small boats from today from claiming asylum will push the boundaries of international law but will not break it, a senior Tory has said.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is set to publish long-promised legislation on Channel crossings on Tuesday that she has admitted “pushes the boundaries of international law”.
This will include preventing people who come to the UK illegally from claiming asylum or using human rights law to stop their removal.
Ms Braverman will ask for this to apply from the moment she unveils the proposals in the Commons to avoid people smugglers “seizing on the opportunity to rush migrants across the Channel”, a government source told Sky News.
She is expected to say that under the new illegal migration bill, asylum claims from those who travel to the UK in small boats will be inadmissible.
Arrivals will be removed to a third country and banned from ever returning or claiming citizenship.
Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland said while Ms Braverman has said the legislation will push the boundaries of international law, it will not go as far as breaking it.
He told Sky News’ Kay Burley at Breakfast: “I’ve had assurances that the government isn’t seeking to break international law – that’s its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention.”
Sir Robert said without that it would be “a bit of a free for all for everybody to try and do their own thing” as he acknowledged other countries in Europe and around the world are also struggling with illegal immigration.
He added that he will be looking at the new legislation for exceptions to allow, for example, women from Iran who refuse to wear the hijab or a refugee coming from a war-torn part of the world “who clearly is coming for the right reasons to be able to seek asylum here in the UK”.
Sir Robert admitted there has been “a lot of over-promising and under-delivering” on small boat crossings but thinks Rishi Sunak has the right approach in going “one step at a time” and not just relying on UK legislation but taking action internationally “to avert the problem from reaching the Channel in the first place” such as talks with the French.
As the prime minister acknowledged in a newspaper column today, there has been plenty of over-promising and under-delivering on the issue of small boats.
Priti Patel declared two years ago when outlining her Nationality and Borders bill – now law – that it would tackle dangerous crossings. Last year saw record numbers of more than 45,000 people make the perilous journey.
Five years ago, Sajid Javid, as home secretary, vowed to ensure those using this route were not successful. The numbers went up dramatically.
Today’s legislation – to be outlined by the home secretary at lunchtime – is not more of the same, because it breaks new ground legally. Whether it will work is another matter.
Downing Street has confirmed that the intention is that a “duty to remove” Channel migrants – with very limited exceptions for children and those who are seriously ill – takes precedence over asylum, modern slavery and human rights claims
They will attempt to apply it retrospectively from today.
I understand the plans include a controversial attempt to cap refugee numbers.
A commitment will be made to new safe routes, but no detail will be provided at this stage.
There is little question enough Tory MPs will vote for the legislation, as they see stopping small boats as a priority for voters, and as a useful dividing line with Labour.
But MPs I’ve spoken to have privately conceded there is little chance of “stopping” small boats or detaining everyone on them; and think the prime minister should have set a lower bar such as reducing or controlling numbers.
What is the government’s plan to stop small boats crossing Channel?
How small boats trade really works
Sunak will hope trying to stop Channel crossings appeals to voters
Refugee charities have already described the plans as “costly and unworkable” and said they “promise nothing but more demonisation and punishment” of asylum seekers.
Writing in The Sun, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK has a “proud history of welcoming those most in need”.
But he claimed that those arriving in small boats were doing so via “safe, European countries”, and were not “directly fleeing a war-torn country” or “facing an imminent threat to life”.
Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw told Sky News the government keeps coming up with “desperate measures” and said the latest plan is trying to “override all the international obligations and turn ourselves into a kind of pariah amongst western European states is not going to work anyway”.
He added: “I promise you we will in a year, 18 months time, when there’s a general election, Mr Sunak will be very, very embarrassed about the fact that the numbers might come down a bit but have not stopped.”
Government ‘pushing boundaries of international law’
Critics say the UK has “comprehensively shut down” legal routes for refugees to come to the UK.
While there are schemes to help people fleeing specific countries like Hong Kong and Ukraine, the government has failed to explain the safe and legal routes for asylum seekers escaping war from other parts of the world.
Mr Sunak has made stopping Channel migrant crossings one of his five priorities in office and said while previous bills have made a start on gripping this, “what we are announcing today takes that work forward”.
“It will mean that those who come here on small boats can’t claim asylum here,” he added.
Despite plans such as forcibly removing asylum seekers to Rwanda being mired in legal challenges, ministers were expected to approach the limits of the European Convention on Human Rights with the new legislation.
Writing in the Daily Express, Ms Braverman admitted the plan “pushed the boundaries of international law”.
Government still committed to Rwanda deportations
Under the new legislation, a duty will be placed on the home secretary to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” anyone who arrives on a small boat, either to Rwanda or a “safe third country”.
According to The Times, this will take precedence over human rights and modern slavery claims, and there will be new powers to mass detain arrivals.
Mr Sunak spoke to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame before unveiling his plans, and pledged to continue working with him to ensure their stalled project works.
The government has paid more than £140m to the east African nation for deportations, but no flights forcibly carrying migrants to the capital of Kigali have taken off because of legal challenges.
The PM will also meet France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Friday to discuss further cooperation that will be required to reduce boat crossings.
‘Unworkable and costly’
Several Tory MPs welcomed the news that a new bill was imminent, but Labour raised doubts about the legality and feasibility of the bill and the Liberal Democrats said ministers had drawn up “another half-baked plan”.
The Immigration Services Union representing border staff also said the plans are “quite confusing” and do not seem “possible” without the Rwanda policy functioning.
Almost 3,000 migrants have made unauthorised crossings of the English Channel already this year.
Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said the plans “shatter the UK’s long-standing commitment under the UN Convention to give people a fair hearing regardless of the path they have taken to reach our shores”.
“It’s unworkable, costly and won’t stop the boats,” he added.