The five big problems facing Rishi Sunak’s small boat plan

Migrants arrive by small boat on tourist packed beach

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Rishi Sunak is expected to speak with the French President on Monday as he finalises his plans to put laws in place preventing people entering the UK on small boats from claiming asylum. The new legislation would see any migrant who arrives in a small boat removed, banned from re-entering the UK in the future, and prevented from applying for British citizenship. It is hoped the tougher laws will deter migrants from attempting to cross the Channel illegally. But criticism of the proposals are already coming in thick and fast — here are five big issues coming down the road for the Prime Minister.

1. Devil is in the detail  but there is none yet 

As it stands, asylum seekers coming to the UK can seek protection under the UN’s Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Mail on Sunday has reported that a clause in the new Bill will include a “rights brake” meaning they can bypass the UN’s conventions.

However, there are no details on how this “rights brake” would circumvent the UK’s obligations and limit migrants’ rights.

Home secretary Suella Braverman is thought to be publishing the legislation, called the Illegal Migration Bill, on Tuesday with it due to being discussed in Parliament. More details are set to emerge on Friday at the summit.

She told the Sun that the “only route to the UK will be a safe and legal route” some of which are only available to those coming from specific countries such as Ukraine.

2. Logistically difficult 

According to Home Office data, here is currently a backlog with more than 160,000 people in the UK waiting for decisions on their asylum applications. Almost 46,000 migrants crossed the Channel by small boat last year, a significant increase from the 28,500 seen in 2021.

It is said that these 46,000 people, including children, would be detained and then deported, a logistically difficult task.

The Bill is also due to make it easier for the Home Office to remove irregular migrants with the tough legislation hoped to put off migrants.

Since the Rwanda plan — which will see asylum seekers sent to the African country on a one-way ticket — was announced, the numbers crossing the channel have not fallen with 45,700 taking the treacherous journey last year, the highest figure since records began.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting told BBC One’s Breakfast the Bill was “just the latest in a long line of unworkable gimmicks”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday that the legislation would have to be part of a bigger plan as “a full range of things” is needed to stop illegal migration and people trafficking.

3. Rwanda still not underway

The new law will see the Home Secretary — currently Suella Braverman — have a duty to remove anyone arriving on a small boat to Rwanda “as soon as reasonably practicable” or a “safe third country”.

Although a deal was reached last year, the five-year Rwanda plan remains on the ground as not one migrant has been sent. There are currently no plans to send any there in the near future.

4. No return agreements with the EU 

Since Brexit, the EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) no longer applied to Britain.

The Dublin III Regulation allowed the UK to return some asylum seekers to countries in the EU without considering their claims. Now, the UK currently has no return agreement with the EU.

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5. Harsh indefinite ban?

The new legislation proposes banning migrants arriving via “irregular routes” indefinitely, a ban that is typically applied to criminals.

There are currently one to ten-year re-entry bans in place for either, overstaying, breaching a condition attached to their leave, being an illegal entrant, or using deception in an application for entry clearance, leave to enter, or remain.

Mr Sunak — who has promised to “stop the boats” as one of his five pledges — told the Mail on Sunday: “Illegal migration is not fair on British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade.

“I am determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats. So make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.”

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