March 5. 2024. 2:19

The Daily

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UK’s ‘illegal and inhumane’ small boats bill prompts backlash

The UK has set out plans to prevent small boats carrying potential migrants and asylum seekers and forcibly return them in a new bill denounced as ‘illegal and inhumane’ by advocacy groups.

Unveiling the government’s Illegal Migration Bill to UK lawmakers on Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that the bill would enable the detention of illegal arrivals without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention until they can be removed.

Only those under 18, medically unfit to fly, or at real risk of serious and irreversible harm in their country of origin could delay their removal.

It includes provisions to prevent asylum seekers from claiming to be a victim of modern slavery to prevent or delay their removal.

The draft law – which has been dubbed the ‘small boats bill’ – follows a spike in irregular migration across the Channel. Since 2018, some 85,000 people illegally entered the UK by small boat – 45,000 of them in 2022.

Braverman told the House of Commons that “the volume of illegal arrivals has overwhelmed our asylum system,” contributing to a backlog of asylum applications that has risen to over 160,000 at a cost of £3 billion per year.

The bill would also allow UK lawmakers to introduce an annual cap on the number of refugees the UK will resettle via safe and legal routes.

However, it is unclear whether the bill’s provisions will be deemed lawful and civil society groups have already signalled their intention to challenge it in court. That could ensure that the bill is not adopted before the next general election which is due by 2024.

In turn, that could see a repeat of the UK’s ‘cash for migrants’ deal with Rwanda, under which the UK pays £120 million per year to the East African country in return for it accommodating failed asylum seekers as their appeals are processed. The agreement has been met with a series of legal challenges which are ongoing. As a result, nobody has arrived in Rwanda yet under the scheme.

Also unclear is whether the bill will lead to the UK leaving the Strasbourg-based European Convention on Human Rights, which has been demanded by some Conservative MPs.

“Our approach is robust and novel”, said Braverman, conceding that “we can’t make a definitive statement of compatibility under the section 91 B of the Human Rights Act.”

“Of course the UK will always seek to uphold international law and I am confident that this bill is compatible with international law,” she added.

The bill has been strongly criticised by NGOs and human rights groups, with Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director at Human Rights Watch describing it as “illegal, unworkable, and utterly inhumane”. It was also condemned by opposition parties in Parliament.

However, taking a hard line on migration is likely to be popular among Conservative voters and political analysts see it as an attempt to boost the governing party’s opinion poll ratings which are currently around 20 points behind Labour’s.

(Benjamin Fox |