The home secretary has told Sky News the government’s new plan to stop small boat migrants arriving in the UK is “not breaking the law”.
Suella Braverman said she is “very confident” the measures announced on Tuesday “are in compliance with our international law obligations”.
The government revealed its new plan to stop migrants entering the UK on small boats, after more than 45,000 crossed the Channel last year.
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Under the plans, arrivals will be detained within the first 28 days without bail or judicial review and the majority would be unable to make claims to stop deportation until they have been returned to the country they came from or a “safe third country such as Rwanda”.
They will also be banned from claiming UK settlement, citizenship or re-entering the UK if they are removed.
The bill has come under severe criticism from opposition MPs and refugee charities, with Amnesty International and the UN Refugee Agency saying the plans would “amount to an asylum ban”.
Labour described the bill as a “con” that was no more likely to be successful than prior Tory efforts to tackle small boat migration across the Channel.
Ms Braverman admitted on Tuesday that the government did not know if the plans were entirely within the conventions of international law.
But she told Sky News’ Kay Burley at Breakfast on Wednesday: “We’re not breaking the law and no government representative has said we’re breaking the law.
“In fact, we’ve made it very clear that we believe we are in compliance with all of our international obligations, for example, the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, other conventions to which we are subject.
“But what’s important is that we do need to take compassionate but necessary and fair measures.
“Now, because there are people who are dying to try and get here. They are breaking our laws. They are abusing the generosity of the British people.”
Ms Braverman’s insistence comes despite a statement by her on the first page of the published bill, which says: “I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the bill.”
And in a letter to Conservative MPs and peers urging them to back the bill, Ms Braverman insisted it “does not mean the provisions in the bill are incompatible” with the Human Rights Act.
“Only that there is a more 50% chance that they may not be,” the letter said.
“We are testing the limits but remain confident that this bill is compatible with international law.”
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The home secretary told Sky News the new plan is the only way to “break the model of the people smuggling gangs” who charge thousands of pounds to transport people across the Channel in small and often overpacked boats.
But Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the new bill does not deal with the cause of the problem, as she accused the government of failing to tackle smuggling gangs.
She said there needs to be return agreements with other European countries from which the gangs operate.
“They’re not actually tackling the problem,” she told Sky News.
“We think you should get return agreements in place with Europe as part of a wider agreement, particularly with France and Belgium.
“I think if you did that then you wouldn’t need many of the things that the government has talked because that actually would be at the heart of it.”
No dates for first removals and more detention centres
Ms Braverman said people will be able to claim asylum in the UK but “they should choose to come here through safe and legal routes” so they are not breaking the law.
“We have a very generous regime of supporting people coming here lawfully for humanitarian protection,” Ms Braverman added.
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“What we can’t go on accepting is people breaking our laws.”
Under the new plan, the government has said new detention centres will be opened, including on military bases, however, Ms Braverman said she could not provide dates of when and where they will open as there are “logistical challenges” – but it will be “very soon”.
She also said she could not give a date for when the first failed asylum seekers will be deported to Rwanda and said the government is doubling the number of asylum caseworkers by more than 2,000 to get through the large backlog of cases.
Ms Braverman said it is costing £6m a day to house asylum claimants in hotels but could not provide details of how much the new plans will save the taxpayer.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will face Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions later on Wednesday, where he is certain to challenge him on the new plans.