New legislation is just one part of action to ‘stop the boats’, vows minister

New legislation pledged by the Prime Minister to tackle illegal migration will form only one part of the Government’s response to the issue, a senior minister has said.

It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman is set to publish long-promised legislation as soon as Tuesday that would make asylum claims inadmissible from those who travel to the UK on small boats.

Mr Sunak on Sunday vowed to put an end to “immoral” illegal migration, while Ms Braverman said “enough is enough”.

But while details are still scarce on the legislation, critics have already questioned whether the Government’s solution will make any difference to small boat arrivals on Britain’s shores.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he is ‘determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats’ (Dan Kitwood/PA)

The legislation would see a duty 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”.

Arrivals will also be prevented from claiming asylum while in the UK, with plans also to ban them from returning once removed.

Labour accused the Government of recycling the same promises that accompanied the passage of the last year’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

During an appearance on BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris was shown a graph displaying a fall in asylum seeker returns since 2010 as he insisted that legislation is just one aspect of the Government’s “arsenal” on the issue.

“We need a full range of things in our arsenal to try and stop both people trafficking and illegal migration across the Channel,” he said.

“That involves proper conversations, that are ongoing, with our French counterparts, and indeed other European counterparts, to try and ensure that people are held in the first safe country that they come to. That also includes international development aid.”

He insisted a tightening of the law is required “because the law has been challenged on pretty much all those occasions and equally when we announced the Rwanda scheme, it was challenged immediately”.

The Prime Minister, who has made “stopping the boats” one of his five priorities, told the Mail on Sunday that he is “determined to deliver” on his promise.

But the Government’s plans have been criticised by campaigners, with concerns too about whether some of the policies are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Rwanda scheme has been mired in legal challenges, and so far no flights carrying migrants to the Rwandan capital Kigali have departed.

The latest Home Office figures show 2,950 migrants have crossed the Channel already this year.

Mr Heaton-Harris, speaking to Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News, signalled that the Government may look at opening more “safe and legal routes” for asylum seekers in the future.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Chris Heaton-Harris said legislation is just one aspect of Government action on illegal migration (Jordan Pettit/PA)

“I’m quite sure there’ll be more safe and legal routes and that’s why we have them,” he said.

“They’ve been proven to work.”

Tory backbenchers have pressed the Prime Minister for firm action to tackle the crossings.

Former cabinet minister Kit Malthouse told Times Radio he would “wait and see” what the legislation looks like, but added: “Will it actually be a bit of a marketing tool for the gangs?

“Will they say, ‘You know what, here’s this legislation coming, it’s going to make our lives more difficult, better get in quick’, and whether that will accelerate numbers a little bit in advance.”

Labour has set out six questions for the Government on the new Bill, as it pressed ministers to show how the latest plan is different to the last piece of legislation to tackle illegal migration.

The party said it wants know if the plan will end the backlog in asylum claims while also including “proper return agreements” with France and other countries.

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 called it “another half-baked plan”.

The party’s home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said it is “immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers”.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, accused the Government of presenting “the very same disastrous plan to simply avoid the asylum responsibilities it expects others to take”.

Calling it “disgraceful posturing and scaremongering”, he said the Bill “promises nothing but more demonisation and punishment of people fleeing conflict and persecution who dare to seek asylum in the UK by means to which Government has chosen to restrict them”.