Suella Braverman has revealed plans for new laws which will impose a “blanket ban” on anyone deemed to be entering the UK illegally from seeking refuge or asylum.
The Home Secretary’s proposed new bill, which she announced at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, is her latest attempt to deter migrants from crossing the Channel. She said the problem is “chronic” and “has gone on far too long”.
It comes after the government’s controversial plan to deport anyone considered to have arrived in the UK “illegally” to Rwanda was stalled following an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. The institution grounded the first flight of asylum seekers heading to Rwanda, and a legal challenge against the scheme is now being heard in the High Court.
But Braverman, who has since said it is her “dream” to see such a flight take off, has made clear that she wishes to fight the legal challenges - and has said she will strive to ensure her new policies on illegal immigration cannot be “derailed” by modern slavery laws, the Human Rights Act, or the European Court of Human Rights.
But the question that remains however is whether the Home Secretary will be able to achieve her ambition - with questions over whether the plans will be allowed under refugee laws.
Are the immigration plans legal?
Braverman said during her speech that the UK will always work within the bounds of international law, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that a law like the one proposed by the Home Secretary “would almost certainly breach the Refugee Convention (1951)”, a treaty signed by the UK.
Under the law, no refugee should be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. It also stipulates that “subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalised for their illegal entry or stays”.
A spokesperson for the UNHCR told The Guardian that it was “concerned” by the Home Secretary’s announcement and stated that “access to asylum should never be contingent on mode of arrival or nationality.” In the statement, they also said the UK has a “clear responsibility” to work to establish whether people are refugees through a “fair and efficient determination of their claims”.
Another stumbling block for Braverman’s proposed policy is the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), of which the UK is also a signatory, and which has, as mentioned, already served to inhibit the Home Secretary’s previous immigration plans.
But perhaps in anticipation of retaliation, the Fareham MP has gone so far as to call for the UK to leave the ECHR in a clear break from government policy. The most recent country to have left the ECHR is Russia, whose Parliament passed laws to end the convention’s jurisdiction in the country following on from its invasion of Ukraine.
Braverman told an audience at the Tories’ annual conference: “My position personally is that ultimately we do need to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. That is not government policy, I should say, government policy is to do everything we can within the convention, within the boundaries of the convention. But if that doesn’t work, then we will have to consider all options.”
What has the response been?
Campaigners condemned the plans as further “attacks” on “genuine refugees”.
Clare Mosley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said the proposal was “barbaric and unnecessary”. She also claimed the government’s rhetoric on Channel crossings was “simply false”.
Meanwhile, chief executive of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon called the plans “deeply worrying”, adding that they were “out of step with the majority of the public who support giving refugees protection.”
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It is now clear that this Home Secretary cares only for keeping people out, not keeping them safe. These plans wilfully ignore the fact that it is a lack of safe routes into the country that pushes people into the hands of smugglers. The government cannot continue to run roughshod over its international responsibilities and threaten refugees with deportation or jail simply for asking for help.”
A former watchdog has also questioned the Home Secretary’s statement that claims under the Modern Slavery Act are “up by 450% since 2014”, which she said is due to the act being “abused” by people “gaming the system”.
Dame Sara Thorton, the UK’s former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, argued the number of referrals had risen since 2014 because of work by the Home Office, police, and authorities to spot victims. She told The Independent: “This is a hidden crime and we have got a lot better at identifying victims.”
Why has the new immigration law been proposed?
The Home Secretary’s new proposal comes as the government faces increased pressure to deal with the rising number of people making dangerous journeys to the UK. While charities have said the response should not be to “criminalise” potential refugees and asylum seekers, Braverman has insisted on the importance of “controlling our borders” - adding it is not “racist” or “bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system”.
She continued: “It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration places pressure on housing, public services and community relations. I reject the left’s argument that it is hypocritical for someone from an ethnic minority to tell these truths.”
More than 30,000 people have already made the crossing in small boats so far this year - a figure which has surpassed last year’s record - and government officials have warned that the total could reach 60,000 by the end of the year.