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Boris Johnson vows post-Brexit look at asylum laws amid row with France over ‘dangerous’ Channel crossings

Border Force officers. (PA)

5 min read

Boris Johnson has said he wants to look at the UK’s “legal framework” on the removal of illegal migrants amid a row with France over an increase in boats crossing the English Channel.

The Prime Minister said current rules mean it is “very difficult” to remove failed asylum seekers once they arrive on British shores - encouraging "cruel and criminal gangs" to profit from the crossings.

Number 10 said the PM was specifically referring to the European Union's Dublin regulations, which are designed to identify which member states are responsible for considering a person's request for asylum.

The rules are often used to argue that asylum seekers who have passed through another member state on their way to the UK should be returned to that country.

But Downing Street believes that the "inflexible and rigid" regulations are being "abused". 

Over 4,100 migrants have arrived in Britain via the crossings since the start of the year, with 151 people being intercepted by authorities on Saturday alone.

Mr Johnson said: “Be in no doubt, what is going on is the activity of cruel and criminal gangs, who are risking the lives of these people, taking them across the Channel - a pretty dangerous stretch of water - in potentially unseaworthy vessels. 

“We want to stop that, working with the French, to make sure they understand that this isn't a good idea. That this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do. 

“But there is a second thing, and that is to look at the legal framework we have. 

“That means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to send them away again, even though blatantly they have come here illegally."

He added: “We need to look at both these things. We need to look at the means by which they are coming here, working with the French, and we need to stop them from getting across the Channel.

"But number two, we need to look at the legal framework we have, all the panoply of laws that an illegal immigrant has at his or her disposal that allow them to stay here and we need to look at what we can do to change that.”

Elaborating on the Prime Minister's thinking on Monday, a Number 10 spokesperson said: “We’re currently bound by the Dublin Regulations for returns and they are inflexible and rigid.

"For example, there is a time limit placed on returns. It’s something which can be abused by those migrants and their lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.

"At the end of this year we will no longer be bound by EU laws so can negotiate our own returns agreement and the Home Office continue to look at all available options to tackle this issue.”

But migrants' rights campaigners have warned that the UK has yet to put foward any proposals to replace the Dublin agreement once Britain leaves the EU. thanks 


The vow came as Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont hit back at reports the Government is considering using Royal Navy vessels in an attempt to deter vessels trying to cross the Channel.

“The Prime Minister’s proposals will only make the situation worse for desperate people and are a shameful scar on our history of offering people refuge" - Minnie Rahman, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

He told the BBC: “What are they going to do if there is a small boat trying to enter the British waters?

“Is the British Navy going to shoot at the small boat to prevent these immigrants entering the British waters at 12 nautical miles?

"Is the Royal Navy going to enter the French waters before the immigrants try to cross and arrive into the British waters?

“Basically, that won't change anything, clearly. This is a political measure to show some kind of muscles to fight against smugglers and illegal crossings in the Channel. But technically speaking, that won't change anything.”

Pressed on whether the Government was considering making use of Navy resources, the Prime Minister's spokesperson said: “The Border Force is continuing to look at a range of options and new measure to prevent vessels from entering UK waters."

But, pointing out that the English Channel is the one of the world's busiest for shipping, the spokesperson said any measures needed to be “effective" and not "impact on legitimate maritime traffic”.


Immigration Minister Chris Philp is set to meet with his French counterpart in Paris later this week in a bid to step up the two countries' efforts to clamp down on the crossings.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that “it would be helpful if we could work with our French friends” in order to stem the number of vessels reaching UK shores.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has suggested that the UK's current set up makes it difficult for asylum seekers to apply to stay in Britain unless they are on UK soil.

Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the JCWI, told PoliticsHome: “Nobody wants to see people forced to make the dangerous journey across the channel. 

“But there is, quite simply, no safe or legal route for people to claim asylum in Britain without setting foot on British soil. 

“A claim centre in France and humanitarian visas for people seeking asylum would be far more effective and easy to implement than attempting to frustrate international law.  

“The Prime Minister’s proposals will only make the situation worse for desperate people and are a shameful scar on our history of offering people refuge. History will not view the Government’s response kindly.”

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