Rishi Sunak is hoping to convince voters that he is “getting a grip” on channel boat crossings, as he prepares to unveil tough new legislation to remove all migrants who enter the UK via illegal routes from the country forever.

But is this so-called crackdown anything more than political posturing? 

Under the new Bill, set to be announced in Parliament on Tuesday, those entering Britain via small boat will be barred from making an asylum claim here. Instead, they will be detained in secure accommodation with no right of appeal, deported within weeks – either to Rwanda or another “safe third country” – and banned from returning to the UK for life. 

This comes as the number of Channel crossings surpassed 45,000 last year, compared to 28,000 the year before. Bar Albanians, most of the nationalities commonly seen on small boats do eventually have their asylum cases granted – for instance, 98 per cent in the case of Syrians. But with the asylum backlog at a record 166,000, they often have to wait years for their cases to be assessed. 

Sunak, who made “stopping the boats” one of his top five priorities on becoming PM, believes his plans are “legally watertight.”

Daniel Sohege, a specialist in international refugee law, is yet to be convinced. “The government is setting itself up to fail, again,” he told Reaction. 

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is likely to encounter many of the same obstacles as her predecessor, despite Priti Patel’s tough rhetoric on immigration.

Crucially, under the UN refugee convention, the UK has an international legal obligation to give anyone who seeks protection in this country a fair hearing, regardless of their manner of entry. 

Sunak and Braverman’s new Bill hopes to skirt around this by adding in a “rights brake”, allowing them to effectively circumvent international conventions which prevent deportation.

But this would almost certainly lead to the UK getting bogged down in multiple legal challenges. 

“Just as an example,” says Sohege, “when the High Court ruled on the lawfulness of the Rwanda plan, it specifically stated that removals could only take place on a case by case basis.” So a blanket removal policy for small boat arrivals would likely contravene this.

Speaking of Rwanda, plans to send asylum seekers to the African nation are still held up in the court of appeal, meaning not one migrant has been sent there yet. 

What’s more, it’s all very well for the government to say it will deport illegal immigrants to a “safe third country” but there’s no legal mechanism to do so until that safe third country agrees. On Friday, Sunak is meeting French president Emmanuel Macron in a bid to seek a “substantial” increase in Channel beach patrols to stop migrants from leaving French shores. However, he is very unlikely to ever get Macron to agree to take back asylum seekers once they’ve successfully reached British soil. 

Braverman has boasted that the looming Bill will mean “the only route to the UK will be a safe and legal route.” Of course, it’s worth clarifying that, for the vast majority of asylum seekers, no such route exists.

Aside from those who qualify for specific government resettlement schemes, such as the ones available to Ukrainians and some Afghans, there is no way to apply for asylum in Britain until individuals have – however perilously – reached British soil. 

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