UK government migration reforms dubbed ‘delusional’

Former interior ministers condemns Nationality and Borders Bill

A group of migrants is taken to Dover, England, by Border Force officers on December 16. PA
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Anyone believing the government’s immigration reforms will succeed is “delusional”, according to critics of the cabinet proposals designed to place new limits on the numbers of people seeking the right to stay in the UK.

Lord Blunkett, a Home Secretary between 2001-4, was among a string of peers to condemn the flagship Nationality and Borders Bill as it started a rocky ride through the House of Lords.

The legislation seeks to curb English Channel crossings and change how asylum claims are processed.

The Bill gives Border Force officers powers to turn migrants away from the UK while at sea, and makes it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.

The maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rises from six months’ imprisonment to four years.

It would also allow the government to strip people of their British citizenship without warning.

“Signalling without solutions is virtue signalling whilst misleading the public," Mr Blunkett said during the Bill’s second reading debate in the House.

"And anyone who believes that this Bill will actually be successful in implementation is delusional.

“A two-tier asylum system will fail. Withdrawal of citizenship without notification or explanation will be immoral. Breach of international conventions … is totally unacceptable for a democratic nation."

He was joined in his criticism by fellow former home secretary Lord John Reid of Cardowan.

Lord Reid said the legislation addressed the symptoms but not the underlying causes behind migration, such as war, persecution, famine and climate change.

“You will not solve this problem by trying to put a stopper in the distance between Dover and Calais," he said.

"This is a much deeper strategic problem and it will only be done by international co-operation, international concord, international plans. That is why it is a tragedy that we have had cuts in the aid budget."

Opening the debate, Justice Minister Lord David Wolfson of Tredegar told the upper chamber: “Being humane does not mean allowing everyone in.

"I remind the House that there are some 80 million displaced people around the world today.

“There are too many people who profess a desire to control our borders but then when it comes to putting that professed desire into practice, oppose any and every measure designed to do so.

"That is what one might call a Marxist approach to the problem. Not Karl but Groucho. ‘Whatever it is, I am against it’. If you will the ends then you can’t oppose all of the means all of the time."

Stressing the need to reduce the “pull factors” that led people to make the hazardous Channel crossing, Mr Wolfson highlighted last November’s mass migrant drowning.

“The loss of those 27 lives in the Channel in November laid bare in devastating fashion why we must do everything possible to make this route unviable," he said.

"We must reduce the pull factors which lead people to leave other safe countries and risk drowning."

But Labour frontbencher Lord Richard Rosser said: “This Bill won’t solve the problem of dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk.

"Instead, it proposes unworkable solutions that will cost the taxpayer dearly and undermine international humanitarian conventions and agreements at a time when co-operation is needed more than ever.

“In short, this Bill is a sham."

Liberal Democrat Lord Brian Paddick said: “We on these benches accept that there needs to be grip and focus on illegal immigration, but this Bill is a distraction and a very dangerous one."

The Bishop of Durham, the Rev Paul Butler, said: “It will make the asylum system more complicated and cumbersome, be less fair, provide less safe routes and be more expensive.

“The differential treatment of refugees according to their mode of arrival is central to the Bill and causes me very deep concern.”

Refugee campaigner and Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a child on the Kindertransport scheme, said: “If there are no legal routes to safety, the traffickers have a field day.”

Border Force officials could strike over plans to turn dinghies around in Channel

Also on Wednesday, British Border Force officials could go on strike over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s “morally reprehensible” plans to turn back dinghies in the English Channel, a union has said.

The Home Office is facing legal action over proposals to turn small boats around at sea, a tactic campaigners warn could put lives at risk.

About 28,300 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats in 2021, triple the number for 2020, PA reported

The government continues to consider options to tackle the issue and has invited businesses to a meeting, bound by non-disclosure agreements, in the hope of hearing “innovative ideas”.

Meanwhile, Ms Patel has called in scientific advisers in a bid to use X-rays and other medical checks on migrants to stop grown men “masquerading as children” on their applications.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, whose members include about 80 per cent of the Border Force officers, and the charity Care4Calais have filed an application for judicial review on the pushback policy.

They intend to challenge the lawfulness of redirecting boats out of UK waters and back to France.

The union said the policy “contravenes international law and is morally reprehensible”, and could expose Border Force officials to risk of prosecution.

Even if the court application is unsuccessful, the union has not ruled out industrial action and officers refusing to carry out the pushbacks.

“The legality of the pushbacks policy is in serious question, and it is right that the court decides whether it is unlawful to turn back Channel boats," union general secretary Mark Serwotka said.

“We cannot have a situation where our members could be open to potential civil and criminal action for implementing a policy that they do not agree with and know is not safe.

“Although we are hoping for a positive outcome from the legal proceedings, people should be in no doubt PCS strongly opposes this policy, on moral and humanitarian grounds, and we will not rule out industrial action to prevent it being carried out.”

Clare Moseley, founder of the refugee charity Care4Calais, said: “The proposed policy deprioritises the UK’s duty under domestic and international law to save lives at sea.

“It is for good reason that this duty is a cornerstone of International maritime law. If eroded, I fear it will enable the UK to devalue lives at sea.

“It risks opening the gates to the horrific scenes we are seeing in the Mediterranean."

A Home Office representative said officials were continuing to assess options to stop people making this "dangerous and unnecessary journey".

"These all comply and are delivered in accordance with both domestic and international law," the representative said.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will also overhaul the broken asylum system and reduce many of the historic pull factors.”

Despite the Home Secretary’s pledge to make crossings an “infrequent phenomenon” by spring 2020, more than 36,000 people have succeeded in reaching the UK in the last two years.

The number of adult asylum seekers falsely claiming to be children is a “significant issue”, the department said as it announced it was setting up a scientific advisory committee to get advice on ways of checking the ages of those arriving in the UK.

Downing Street was unable to say whether the number of small boats crossing the Channel this year will be lower than 2021’s total.

“I’m not going to get into predictions over the level of crossings,” said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.

Updated: January 06, 2022, 10:26 AM