What is the Government’s plan to tackle migrant small boats and how would it be enforced?

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, on board a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller / PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, on board a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller / PA)

Home Secretary Suella Braverman today (March 7) announced new legislation that will target people crossing the English Channel on small boats.

She said that the British people had been “taken for a ride” and that “enough is enough”.

The Illegal Migration Bill, which is set to go before Parliament later, comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made addressing the illegal immigration issue one of his key pledges at the start of the year.

The Government already has a plan in place aimed at deporting some asylum seekers to Rwanda. But no one has been sent there so far and legal challenges are holding up the plan, which has faced vehement campaigner opposition.

The High Court in December ruled the policy was legal and did not breach the UN’s Refugee Convention.

Mr Sunak told the Mail on Sunday on March 5: “Make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.

“Illegal immigration is unfair to British taxpayers, individuals who enter the country legally, and it is unfair to allow criminal gangs to go on their immoral business. I’m adamant about keeping my word and stopping the vessels.”

The latest Home Office figures show more than 4,000 people have crossed the Channel already this year. This figure was more than 45,000 last year, up from around 300 in 2018.

Mr Sunak said the new powers were a step towards fulfilling his pledge to “stop the boats once and for all”.

What is the Government’s plan to tackle migrant boats?

According to the Home Secretary’s new legislation, those entering the UK illegally would be detained within the first 28 days without bail or judicial review until they are removed.

The UK would accept only a set number of refugees determined by Parliament, who will be able to use new “safe and legal routes” introduced by the Government.

Under the new rules, channel migrants will be expelled from the UK, barred from further re-entry, and unable to petition for British citizenship.

The only ones that will be able to lodge an appeal to pause the deportation would be those under 18, those who are medically unfit to fly, or those who are at “real risk” of serious harm in the country they are removed to.

Ms Braverman told the Commons on Tuesday: “They will not stop coming here until the world knows that if you enter Britain illegally you will be detained and swiftly removed back to your country, if it is safe, or a safe third country such as Rwanda.

“And that is precisely what this bill will do. That is how we will stop the boats.”

The European Convention on Human Rights and the UN's Refugee Convention currently both grant those seeking asylum in the UK the ability to do so. However, Ms Braverman believes that the new legislation is likely to be compatible with international law, allowing the UK to action the bill.

What has been the reaction to the plan?

Many Conservative MPs understantably backed the bill on Tuesday. Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesborough South and East Cleveland, said his constituents wanted illegal immigration controlled and it was a “top priority” for them.

“I warmly welcome the principle of the bill, not least as the whole house knows these people traffickers are immoral and utterly heartless,” added Tory MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, Mark Francois.

Campaigners have criticised the Government's plan, however, and raised questions about whether some of the rules are in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the plan created “more chaos” by “letting criminals off the hook”. She referred to the “hundreds of children missing from asylum hotels who have been picked up by criminal gangs”, saying barely any of them are being prosecuted.

Previously, Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, had told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The plans as they’ve been announced really are quite confusing. We can’t move anyone to Rwanda right now — it’s subject to legal challenge.

“We can’t remove anyone back into Europe because there are no returns agreements and we lost access to the database that allows us to prove that individuals have claimed asylum in Europe — Eurodac — when we left with Brexit.

“So, unless we have a safe third country that isn’t Rwanda to send people to, this just doesn’t seem to be possible.”

The bill will “more cruelty and misery” for migrants, Katy Chakrabortty, head of policy and advocacy for the charity Oxfam, said.

As quoted by the BBC, she said the new legislation would “risk breaching refugee, humanitarian and human rights law”.

Ms Chakrabortty added that the bill was “yet another example of the UK turning its back on some of the world’s most vulnerable people”.

She said the UK cannot “hope to legislate away” the reasons why so many migrants to attempt the dangerous journey to the UK by boat across the Channel.

The Refugee Council says thousands of people will be “permanently in limbo” as a result of the measures.

Amnesty International’s Steve Valdez-Symonds called it “disgraceful posturing and scaremongering”.

A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, where as a migrant refers more broadly to anyone who moves from one place to another.

Labour has also criticised the Government, accusing them of recycling the same promises that accompanied the passage of last year’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the plan “unworkable”.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Conservatives are responsible for an abysmal failure to tackle the huge increase in dangerous small boat crossings and the criminal gangs who are putting lives at risk and undermining border security.

“Ministers have made countless claims and promises yet the facts show their last law badly failed and made things worse. Instead of learning lessons, it looks like they are still recycling the same rhetoric and failure.”

The Liberal Democrats said it was “another half-baked plan”. The party’s home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said it was “immoral, ineffective, and incredibly costly for taxpayers”.