New measures to curtail the number of migrant boats sailing across the English Channel to land asylum seekers in the UK are being urgently considered.
Legislation promised as part of the UK government’s efforts to tackle illegal migration could come as soon as Tuesday.
There has been a massive rise in the number of migrants entering the UK who have made the dangerous voyage, often in unseaworthy vessels, across the English Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
Reducing migrant numbers is a political priority for the ruling Conservative Party.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced the plans late on Saturday.
“Illegal migration is not fair on British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade,” Mr Sunak told the Daily Express.
“I’m determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats. So make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.”
The legislation is expected to make asylum claims inadmissible from those who travel to the UK across the Channel on small boats.
A duty would be placed on the Home Secretary to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” anyone who arrives on a small boat to Rwanda or a “safe third country”.
Arrivals will also be prevented from claiming asylum in the UK, with further plans to ban them from returning once removed.
“Enough is enough. The British people want this solved. They are sick of tough talk and inadequate action. We must stop the boats,” Ms Braverman told The Sun on Sunday.
“That's why myself and the Prime Minister have been working flat out to bring forward necessary and effective laws which will tackle this problem, once and for all."
The legislation is one aspect of the government’s “arsenal” to tackle illegal immigration, a Cabinet minister said on Sunday.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told the BBC: “We need a full range of things in our arsenal to try and stop both people-trafficking and illegal migration across the Channel.
“That involves proper conversations that are ongoing with our French counterparts, and indeed other European counterparts, to try to ensure that people are held in the first safe country that they come to. That also includes international development aid.”
He insisted a tightening of the law was required “because the law has been challenged on pretty much all those occasions and equally when we announced the Rwanda scheme, it was challenged immediately”.
Mr Heaton-Harris told Sky News the government would be open to creating more “safe and legal routes” for asylum seekers in the future.
“I’m quite sure there’ll be more safe and legal routes and that’s why we have them,” he said.
“They’ve been proven to work.”
While Labour said it would study the legislation before forming a view on whether it addressed the problem of illegal immigration, the Liberal Democrats dismissed the government's strategy as “another half-baked plan”.
The party’s home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said it was “immoral, ineffective and incredibly costly for taxpayers”.
Critics are worried the plans will not reduce the number of people endangering their lives to reach Britain.
Red Cross executive director of strategy Christina Marriott called the proposal “extremely concerning”.
“The Home Office knows from its own research that this will also do little to prevent people risking their lives to seek safety,” she said.
“Again and again, we hear from people that they have no prior knowledge of the UK's asylum system, so making it harsher is not an effective strategy.”
Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, called the proposals “vindictive and dysfunctional”.
“This legislation will do nothing to reduce the number of deaths in the channel or the chaos and incompetence that blights our asylum system, nor will it guarantee sanctuary for those who need it.
“Instead, it will lead to more torture survivors being unfairly denied protection and potentially removed to Rwanda.”
The government's plans have also been criticised by campaigners, with doubts raised whether some of the policies are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Rwanda scheme has been mired in legal challenges, and so far no flights carrying migrants to the capital Kigali have departed from Britain.
The latest Home Office figures show 2,950 migrants have crossed the Channel this year to date.
A record 45,756 people crossed the English Channel last year, according to official figures, up from the 28,526 recorded for 2021.
In 2018, there were 299 people. In 2019 there were 1,843 and in 2020 the number rose again to 8,466, Home Office data indicates.
Downing Street has said the legislation will come in due course.