Rishi Sunak has set the UK on a collision course with the courts after unveiling hardline laws to curb Channel crossings, which will give the Government the power to ignore rulings by European judges if they stop deportations.
The Prime Minister said he was “up for the fight” against legal challenges to his plan to tackle the small boats crisis, insisting there was “absolutely nothing improper” about his new legislation and that he is “confident” the Government would win any court action.
But the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it is “profoundly concerned” by the Bill and if passed, it will amount to an “asylum ban”, making it a “clear breach of the Refugee Convention”.
The plan means that anyone who arrives in the UK via the Channel “must know” that “it will result in their detention and swift removal,” Mr Sunak told a Downing Street press conference.
“Once this happens, and they know it will happen, they will not come and the boats will stop.”
The Government intends to have the laws in operation by the next election.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman was forced to admit there is a more than 50 per cent chance that her new Illegal Migration Bill is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), setting up a potentially protracted legal battle.
A Government source also highlighted provisions in the legislation that would give the Home Secretary the power to ignore interim rulings by the Strasbourg court that enforces the ECHR if they stop the removal of Channel asylum seekers.
Mr Sunak insisted “we don’t believe it is necessary to leave the ECHR” to enact his tough new asylum plan.
However, he said the Government was in negotiations with the Strasbourg court to reform what a source said was the “deeply flawed” process around so-called “rule 39” interim injunctions that blocked the controversial first deportation flight to Rwanda, with the policy still yet to get off the ground.
If the negotiation fails, the new Bill makes clear that the Home Secretary would have the power to quickly pass regulations to ignore the interim rulings if they block further deportations.
A source said this meant the Rwanda scheme, key to enabling the deportation of Channel asylum seekers, could theoretically get up and running as soon as the Bill passes through Parliament.
But they added: “The reality is: would you want to end up going against the court – but that is a possibility on Assent of the Bill,” they added.
Mr Sunak, who visited Dover in Kent earlier in the day to mark the announcement, said the UK will be “constrained” in its ability to take in genuine refugees in the future if it fails in its efforts to stop the boats.
“Full control of our borders will allow us to decide who to help and to provide safe and legal routes to those most in need,” he told the press conference.
“I understand there will be debate about the toughness of these measures. All I can say is we’ve tried it every other way and it has not worked.”
Asked if he will have failed if he has not “stopped the boats” by the next general election, Mr Sunak said: “I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t think that I could deliver on this promise.”
In a statement, the UNHCR said the Bill “would amount to an asylum ban”.
“Most people fleeing war and persecution are simply unable to access the required passports and visas.
“There are no safe and ‘legal’ routes available to them.
“Denying them access to asylum on this basis undermines the very purpose for which the Refugee Convention was established.”