Rishi Sunak readies for battle over latest bid to stop cross-Channel migration – POLITICO
LONDON – Rishi Sunak is set to unveil new plans this week to stop “small boats” from crossing the English Channel – but he faces a huge battle in Parliament and in court to get them across the line soon.
As part of efforts to curb migration across the English Channel, the Sunak government is set to publish legislation as early as Tuesday aimed at banning those arriving in the UK on the ships from even seeking asylum in the country.
“So make no mistake, if you come here illegally you cannot stay,” Sunak told the Mail on Sunday newspaper as he started the week. The Prime Minister has made “stopping the boats” one of his top priorities as he seeks to reverse his party’s fate in the polls.
The new legislation is expected to seek to make all asylum claims from people arriving in the UK on small boats inadmissible. Under the plans, ministers would then leave the country and permanently bar anyone using the crossing from returning.
But the proposals – which will also draw a political dividing line with the opposition Labor Party – are already facing a backlash and there are questions about their viability.
Labor leader Keir Starmer on Monday called the government’s plans “unworkable” and the party calls them a repeat of previous commitments. It remains to be seen whether the party will officially reject the bill in the House of Commons.
But Starmer told LBC: “The issue needs to be addressed – the crossings across the English Channel. But that’s not a viable plan.”
And he added: “We had a plan last year that was in the spotlight… he was going to break that [people smuggling] Gangs, it didn’t. Now we have the next piece of legislation with almost the same billing – I don’t think filing unworkable proposals will get us very far.”
Starmer was referring to the government’s Nationality and Borders Act, last year’s attempt to tackle the problem by introducing a two-tier system that will reduce support for asylum seekers who enter the UK via “irregular” routes.
Ministers also signed a controversial deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, but so far none have been sent to the Central African country despite legal challenges.
‘That is not right’
Ministers hoped these proposals would deter those planning to make the treacherous journey across the Channel from France – but the number of crossings has not dropped since the Rwanda plan was announced last April. More than 45,700 people used this route to get to Britain last year, the highest number on record.
Sunak’s latest attempt may face similar challenges in court and in parliament.
Asylum seekers have the right to seek protection under the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. According to reports over the weekend, ministers plan to legislate to effectively circumvent both – something that would likely land the government in legal trouble.
“It’s going to cause all sorts of difficulties,” Conservative former Brexit secretary David Davis told talkTV on Monday. “Imagine an Afghan who may have been a translator for the British Army, stuck in Afghanistan and wanting to come here… [Under the proposals] He gets banned and even banned for 10 years if he comes across the channel. That is not right.”
Sunak’s large majority in the House of Commons means that any bill would likely pass, even if Labor and a small group of Tories refused to support it. But problems could arise in the finely balanced House of Lords, which would require a multitude of changes to the previous legislation.
Meanwhile, activists argue that with the Rwanda plan on hold, Sunak – who is meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron later this week – should push for safer and more legal routes for people traveling to the UK
“We cannot relocate 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. “So unless we have a safe third country that isn’t Rwanda that we can send people to, it just doesn’t seem possible.”
The UK has had no return policy with the EU since its membership of the Dublin Accords – which allowed the UK to send back people who transited through a safe third country for repatriation – lapsed after Brexit.