Pilots of migrant boats face life sentence under tough new UK laws

Anyone caught entering Britain illegally risks a four-year prison term under new legislation

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, UK, on Tuesday after being found on a small boat in the Channel. PA
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People caught piloting small boats carrying migrants across the English Channel will face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under new UK laws.

The tougher measure came into force on Tuesday as part of the Nationality and Borders Act, which gives the UK government new powers to tackle illegal migrant crossings.

Under the legislation, anyone found to have entered the UK illegally or overstayed their visa will face a maximum penalty of four years behind bars — a significant increase from the previous six-month prison term. The government will also be able to deport foreign nationals in British prisons for up to a year before the end of their jail term.

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is under mounting pressure from high-level figures within the ruling Conservative Party to stamp out illegal immigration, hailed the more stringent measures as a major step towards securing borders.

“This is one of the most crucial milestones in delivering on our promise to the British public to take back control of our borders,” Ms Patel said.

“While there is no single solution to the global migration crisis, these reforms which come into effect today play a vital role in overhauling the broken asylum system as we put our New Plan for Immigration into action.

“We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we offer protection and sanctuary to those in genuine need; but these new measures will enable us to crack down on abuse of the system and the evil people smugglers, who will now be subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment as a result of this law coming into force.”

A man carries a young boy from a rescue vessel in Dover on Tuesday. PA

The Act was enshrined in UK law in April but did not come into effect until Tuesday.

It gives new powers to immigration officers to carry out searches of containers offloaded from ships or aircraft.

The legislation also gives the UK the power to scale back or halt visas for any country that poses a threat to international security or refuses to take back its citizens who do not have a right to be in Britain.

As the new laws came into force, the steady flow of dinghies bound for Britain continued to depart from the beaches of northern France on Tuesday. A young boy was among a group of migrants pictured arriving in the port of Dover, south-east England, after being picked up at sea.

Despite Britain moving towards harsher penalties for people smugglers in recent months, and ushering in a controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, men, women and children have continued to make the perilous voyage across the Channel through busy shipping lanes.

A total of 153 migrants on four boats were intercepted by the UK authorities on Monday, according to figures released by the Ministry of Defence.

The recent crossings bring the total reaching the UK so far this year to 12,312, compared with 5,654 at this point in 2021 and 2,449 in 2020.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last weekend declined to say how much Channel crossings would need to decrease for his Rwanda migrant policy to be declared a success.

The first flight to the central African country, planned for June 14, was cancelled at the last minute following an order from the European Court of Human Rights.

Updated: June 28, 2022, 2:55 PM