UK draws up plan to jail male migrants stopped at sea

If the legislation passes, it would criminalise people who arrive in the country without permission

Two migrants await immigration officers after arriving at Dungeness, southern England, in an inflatable dinghy from France on Tuesday. Getty

Men sailing from France to England to enter the country illegally could face up to four years in jail if the boat they are on is intercepted.

The new offence, being considered in the Nationality and Borders Bill, would make it unlawful to be found in a vessel in the English Channel without authorisation to enter the UK, The Times reported on Saturday.

At present, people migrating illegally can be detained only when they reach British soil.

“We’re working through what powers of detention are needed,” one government source said.

Another told The Times that government ministers were “convinced this is the way to create a deterrent”.

"Their thinking is you make it worse and worse, more draconian, and it’ll stop people coming. They’re absolutely convinced that tough deterrents are the way to fix it.”

Demonstrations against the bill have been held in central London.

Items left on the beach as migrants await immigration officers after arriving at Dungeness, England. Getty Images

If the legislation passes, it would criminalise anyone arriving in the country without permission, including those intending to seek asylum.

It would give officers form the government’s Border Force the power to turn migrants away from the UK while at sea, which is illegal under international conventions.

Clause 9 allows for unprecedented powers to strip people of British citizenship without telling them beforehand if doing so would “not be reasonably practicable”, in the “interests of national security” or “otherwise in the public interest”. If the bill passes, the clause could also be applied retrospectively.

Last July, the UK government agreed to pay France £54 million ($73.2 million) to clamp down on the Channel crossings.

More than 28,300 people crossed the English Channel to Britain illegally last year, about 20,000 more than in 2020.

Others never completed the journey. In one of the deadliest incidents, 27 people died when a flimsy vessel sank off the coast of northern France.

Some migrants stow away on lorries in France that are heading to Britain.

If they are caught, the lorry drivers can be fined up to £2,000 ($2,710), even if they transport the migrants unwittingly.

Updated: January 22, 2022, 4:22 PM