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By Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham
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Downing Street Defends “Pushback” Tactics That Could See Migrant Boats Turned Around

Downing Street Defends “Pushback” Tactics That Could See Migrant Boats Turned Around

Downing Street has defended the government's plans to try and prevent migrants from crossing the Channel to the UK (Alamy)

3 min read

Number 10 has defended new proposals to stop migrants crossing the Channel to the UK saying it “is a long-standing problem that the public expect us to address”.

According to The Times, the Border Force will start turning boats around and sending them back to France. Such proposals have been criticised by MPs and humanitarian charities as “cruel” and “cowardly”, while others questioned its legality.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson believed migrants crossing the Channel into the UK means that “criminal gangs are able to exploit our most vulnerable and put their lives at risk”.

They said the government was looking at a "range of safe and legal options" following claims Home Secretary Priti Patel has sanctioned new “pushback” tactics to redirect migrant vessels trying to make it to Britain.

Boris Johnson's spokesperson evaded questions over whether the Prime Minister himself had approved such plans.

"As part of our ongoing response we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options to find ways of stopping small boats making this dangerous and unnecessary journey," they said. 

"Border Force have a range of safe and legal options available to them to deploy, I'm not going to comment on operational tactics in more detail."

After The Times reported this morning that Patel has ordered officials to rewrite maritime laws to allow to turn boats around, the No.10 spokesperson said the UK's activities in the Channel "comply with international and domestic law”.

But Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director was unconvinced. "The government's pushback plan is senseless, dangerous and almost certainly unlawful," he said. 

"Intercepting vessels in the Channel is incredibly high risk and to push people back will endanger their lives, which is totally at odds with the legal duty of rescue at sea."

Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton also disapproved of authorities intercepting boats in the Channel. 

"Resorting to cowardly, extreme and illegal pushbacks shows government policy has always been about bullying refugees to score political points rather than breaking up smuggling gangs," he said. 

"We all want the boats to stop but this plan massively increases the chances of families drowning at sea.”

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, claimed Patel has broken "international law" and described the "lethal response" as a "humanitarian disaster".

The French interior minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted this morning accusing the UK of "financial blackmail” following reports a £54million package to help solve the issue might be withheld.

Downing Street said the government has "provided our French counterparts significant sums of money previously, and we've agreed another bilateral agreement backed by millions of pounds".

The Prime Minister's spoksperson said the UK was keen to work with French and EU counterparts to tackle "this long-standing problem," and that they were "content" current Border Force tactics were both safe and legal. 

"I think you've seen the scale of the challenge,” they added. 

“When we are seeing record numbers still being able to cross the Channel, we need to make sure that all the requisite options are available to our Border Force staff, and that's what we will continue to do."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael heavily condemned the proposals. "Priti Patel's latest cruel idea shows she is not interested in saving lives," he said. 

"The government should be trying to stop people making these dangerous Channel crossings, not forcing them to try again."

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