Sunak’s plan to ban migrants using small boats from the canal has come under fire

Rishi Sunak’s proposed bill to curb migration across the English Channel by banning anyone arriving in small boats from ever applying for asylum in the UK was met with widespread skepticism on the eve of its introduction in Parliament.

The Prime Minister insists the new laws will end human trafficking across the English Channel ‘once and for all’. But critics point out that it’s unclear where the government will take those it hopes to stop once they arrive in Britain, while its key policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda has stalled in court.

“We cannot deport anyone to Rwanda at this time – there is a legal challenge. We can’t bring anyone back to Europe because there are no repatriation agreements,” Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union told the BBC on Monday. “Unless we have a safe country that isn’t Rwanda, it just doesn’t seem possible to get people there.”

Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” was one of five pre-election pledges he announced in January after a record 45,728 undocumented migrants crossed the English Channel last year.

Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union
Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union said: “It just doesn’t seem possible” © Tolga Akmen/FT

The Prime Minister hopes that last week’s agreement with the EU on the post-Brexit trade regime in Northern Ireland will help create a better climate for cross-channel cooperation with both France and the EU on illegal migrant crossings create.

Sunak travels to Paris on Friday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron. British officials said they would focus on enforcing migration rules and improving existing agreements between Britain and France.

A major challenge for the UK government is what to do with those who successfully cross the Channel.

Human rights groups have raised the prospect of indefinite detention of thousands of asylum seekers under the new legislation in the absence of relocation agreements with other countries.

“The government’s flawed legislation will not stop the boats, but will result in tens of thousands being detained at enormous cost,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of the charity Refugee Council.

Yvette Cooper, home secretary for the Labor shadow party, questioned whether Sunak’s new rules add much to last year’s Nationalities and Borders Act, which allowed the prosecution of people who entered the UK illegally to seek asylum.

“Right now a lot of it looks like a repeat of things they had in last year’s law. . . which ended up making things worse,” she said.

Tory MPs, encouraged by Sunak’s focus on illegal migration, also want clarity on how the plans will overcome legal challenges and work in practice.

“On the surface this seems like a sensible approach if the legislation does what it promises, but Number 10 needs to make sure they don’t overdo it,” said a senior Tory MP.

Colin Yeo, an immigration attorney
Colin Yeo, an immigration attorney, said: “It sounds like wishful thinking on the part of the government.”

Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer and author of the Free Movement blog, said that if undocumented migrants entering the UK were prevented from applying for asylum, Britain would de facto step out of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

He reckoned that the UK could face legal problems over the prolonged detention of migrants, including at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, if there was no prospect of their speedy deportation to third countries.

“It sounds like wishful thinking on the part of government, the idea that you can just wish everything away by legislating,” he said.

The Home Office said: “We will soon introduce legislation to ensure that anyone entering the UK illegally is arrested and promptly returned to their home country or a safe third country.

“Our cooperation with France is also crucial to deal with the unacceptable increase in dangerous Channel crossings. We share a determination to tackle this issue together and head-on to stop the boats.” Sunak’s plan to ban migrants using small boats from the canal has come under fire

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