BRUSSELS – European politicians have criticised the plan unveiled by Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday to stop “small boats” crossing the Channel, questioning whether it would breach international law and whether it would work in practice.
The legislation aims to ban those arriving in the UK in the vessels from claiming asylum in the country at all and will compel the Government to detain and then deport them to their home country or a safe third country.
Thijs Reuten, a Dutch MEP, said it risked a legal challenge and could fail to achieve its objectives. “To break the business model of the smugglers, we need to provide more safe and legal pathways,” he said. “The plan to punish people by banning them for life is intended to scare people off. This looks like rhetorical grandstanding by the Tory government on the backs of the most vulnerable people.”
Mr Reuten said although the UK was outside the European Union, it was still bound by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which says “you cannot punish a refugee that arrives, whether they arrive unlawfully or illegally”.
“Banning a person for life because of the way he or she arrived in the country to me could be seen as a punishment and also as disproportionate,” he added.
Mr Reuten said that when safe and legal pathways are curtailed, it does not make the destination country any less attractive. “They will find other ways. I say the same thing about the EU: building walls and fences on the borders will not solve anything. They will only drive people further into the hands of smugglers,” he said.
He noted that one of the main groups heading for Britain was Iranian refugees, fleeing a repressive regime, and that punishing someone in that situation was “certainly not in line with international obligations”.
Christine Engrand, a far-right French MP from the Pas-de-Calais region, said: “There are still a lot of people who see Britain as an Eldorado, and there are still ruthless people smugglers,” she said. “This does not address the problem.”
Ms Engrand, a member of the National Rally or Rassemblement National, said she had hoped to develop common border policies with the UK and was involved in parliamentary discussions with British MPs. “It would be much better if we work together to deal with this,” she said. “We need legal routes so that migrants can cross over to Britain. I don’t agree with this plan, and the fact that the UK is trying to deny them refugee status is not helpful.”
Patrick Tillier, the mayor of the town of Saint-Martin-lez-Tatinghem in the Pas-de-Calais region, said the proposals were wrongheaded. “I don’t think anyone should be refused asylum,” he said. “And this proposal will not change anything as long as people can still arrive in England illegally.”
There were also questions about whether the proposal breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. However, a spokesman for the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which manages the convention, was cautious in responding to the proposal, merely saying, “Britain has played an active role in shaping the ECHR system from the very beginning to the benefit of everyone in the UK and across the continent.”