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Tory Peer Questions "Outlandish" Government Plans For Child Asylum Seekers

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said unaccompanied children seeking asylum will be removed from the UK when they reach 18. (Alamy)

5 min read

A Conservative peer has called the government’s new plans for unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the UK “outlandish”.

Lord Timothy Kirkhope, Tory peer and former immigration minister, has condemned the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill, criticising the plans to deport unaccompanied children when they reach 18.

On Wednesday evening, immigration minister Robert Jenrick suggested children that arrive alone to the UK via methods like small boats will only have the right to remain in the UK until they are 18.

“They'll remain in the UK until they turn 18 - and then, at that point, they will be removed either back home if their home country is a safe place, or to a safe third country like Rwanda,” Jenrick told Sky News.

“What we don't want to see is the UK being exploited by people smuggling gangs who prey upon children, or those people who are purporting to be children – that would be wrong.”

Overall the legislation will prevent anybody who arrives in the UK via a non-authorised route from claiming asylum or returning in the future, and would require their swift deportation; it will also allow for them to be detained for 28 days without bail or legal challenge.

Kirkhope described the plans for unaccompanied children as a "big mistake” and "immoral".

“My worry is that a child might well be allowed to remain if they arrive at the age of say, six or seven - but when the child reaches the age of 18 so far the government had been unable to say that the child would then be able to remain, and this seems to me to be outlandish if it's true,” he told PoliticsHome.

He added: “It's big mistake – because certain lawyers would then have every right to say: 'I'm sorry, they are now in an established situation, and we cannot throw them out – it will be certainly immoral to do so.'

“And, unfortunately, the law... being proposed does not allow for the retention of those young people - I think that has to be looked at very strongly by the government if it decides foolishly to proceed with this.”

Kirkhope warned he would not be able to vote for the legislation when it reaches the House of Lords in its current form.

“I can't vote for anything in which the minister has already just determined that there is a possibility that it's illegal,” he said.

“So I'm afraid I'm not going to – and having been myself the immigration minister, I don't believe they're going about this the right way.

"I think they're doing it the wrong way round by clamping down now with draconian measures at this end before they've actually tackled the possibilities of reaching agreements with the European Union - and member states - which I think they should be doing first... and also sorting out the resources and spending [for] far more money on removing people who have failed to meet the asylum criteria."

In a letter to MPs earlier this week when she formally announced the plans, Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitted that it is likely the new legislation breaks the law.

 “Our approach is robust and novel, which is why I’ve made a statement under section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act 1998," she said in a letter to MPs seen by the HuffPost

"This does not mean that the provisions in the bill are incompatible with the Convention rights, only that there is a more [than] 50% chance that they may not be.

“We are testing the limits but remain confident that this bill is compatible with international law.”

Kirkhope also criticised Braverman for referring to lawyers working on asylum seeker cases as "lefty". 

“The lawyers are simply dealing the law…someone gets defended by a lawyer using the present law, and I think describing all lawyers who do that as 'lefties' or 'traitors', or whatever you'd like to call them, is absolutely ridiculous," he said. 

Kirkhope is not the only member of the House of Lords that is also raising questions about how it will be received in the house, with Lord Alf Dubs and Baroness Shami Chakrabarti also telling PoliticsHome it will meet difficulties

Responding to remarks that the bill could remove unaccompanied children once they reach 18, a spokesperson for The Children’s Society told PoliticsHome: “This proposed legislation suggests a tiered system of care in the UK that undermines The Children’s Act, could discriminate against children because of their status and risks further trauma to already extremely vulnerable children.

“With the Home Office’s current practice of incorrectly deeming scores of children - running into the hundreds – to be adults and treating them as such, this Bill could also see numerous children who are fleeing conflict, persecution and danger, wrongly removed from the UK with no means of redress.”

Senior Labour MP Stella Creasy told PoliticsHome the plans were "a new low for this government".

"Deporting children who have grown up in the UK to a foreign country without any relatives or even knowing if they can speak the language at the age of 18, after they have fled warzones and torture in the first place seeking help, is a new low for this government," she said.

"Rather than abandoning children to this fate in our name, the government needs to put in place safe and legal routes for those at risk of harm and actually process asylum claims for all ages if it wants to restore any confidence, or dignity, to this situation."

 Additional reporting by Zoe Crowther

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