- Written by Doug Faulkner and Ian Watson
- BBC News
Rishi Sunak said he was “ready to fight” for new legislation to stop migrants crossing the Channel in small boats to reach the UK.
The prime minister said he was confident the government would win any legal battles over the “tough, but necessary and fair” measures.
Earlier, Home Secretary Soella Braverman announced the bill during a divisive debate in Parliament.
Labor said the Tories’ latest plans were such as “Groundhog Day” and “con”.
It wasn’t just opposition MPs who criticized the plans. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the proposed legislation amounted to a “ban on asylum”.
Standing behind a lectern emblazoned with the slogan “Stop the boats”, Mr Sunak confirmed that the planned new law, which would see illegal immigrants deported “within weeks”, would apply retroactively to everyone who arrives in the UK illegally from Tuesday.
He said he knew there would be a discussion about harshness Illegal Immigration Bill However, the government tried “all other means” to prevent the crossings, and it did not work.
And while he admitted it was a “complex problem” and there isn’t a single “silver bullet” to fix it, he said he wouldn’t stand there if he didn’t think he could get it done.
More than 45,000 people entered the UK via Channel crossings last year, up from around 300 in 2018.
The government believes stopping small boats is a major issue for voters, and Mr Sunak has made it one of his top five priorities.
This is politically risky – because the outcome may not be entirely in his hands.
Speaking in the House of Commons, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said serious action was needed to stop small boat crossings, but said the government’s plans risked “making the chaos worse”.
Opposition MPs attacked the legislation one by one, with some saying it was illegal and others saying it would not actually work.
But Conservative MPs backed the Home Secretary as they took turns welcoming the move, and Braverman replied that Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer “doesn’t want to stop the boats”.
In an attempt to quantify the problem, the home secretary said 100 million people around the world could qualify for protection under existing UK laws – and “they come here”.
Acknowledging the potential for a legal battle, Braverman wrote to Conservative MPs saying there was a “more than 50% chance” of legislation contravening the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
This is likely to make legal challenges – and a difficult trip for the bill in the House of Lords – more likely.
But the political calculation could be that the new legislation puts clear blue waters between the government and the opposition.
And if the bill is blocked, the prime minister may hope he can take some political credit from voters for trying to find a solution.
Speaking at a Downing Street conference, Sunak said he believed it would not be necessary for the UK to leave the European Court of Human Rights, and said the government believed it was acting in accordance with it and “fulfilling our international obligations”.
Part of the problem, he said, is that people make one claim “and then they can make another claim, and then another” and said the UK could not have a system from which to draw.
He added that the deterrent effect of the new legislation could be “very strong very quickly”.
- People who are removed from the UK will be barred from returning or seeking British citizenship in the future
- The migrants will not be released on bail and will not be able to seek judicial review during the first 28 days of detention
- There will be a cap on the number of refugees the UK will settle through ‘safe and legal routes’ – set annually by Parliament
- The home secretary has a duty to detain and deport those who arrive in the UK illegally, to Rwanda or a ‘safe’ third country – this would take legal precedence over someone’s right to seek asylum
- Persons under the age of 18, medically unable to fly, or at risk of serious harm in the country to which they are being deported will be able to delay deportation.
- Any further asylum applications will be heard remotely after removal
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was “deeply concerned” by the bill, calling it a “clear violation” of the Refugee Convention.
“Most people fleeing war and persecution simply cannot obtain the required passports and visas,” she added.
“There are no safe and ‘legal’ avenues available to them. To deny them access to asylum on this basis defeats the very purpose for which the Refugee Convention was created.”
The Refugee Council said it was “not the British way of doing things”, with its chief executive Enver Solomon saying the plans were “akin to authoritarian states”, while Amnesty International called it “a cynical attempt to evade basic moral and legal responsibilities”.
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