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By Veterans Aid

What Does The Controversial Illegal Migration Bill Cover?

Suella Braverman introduced the Bill to parliament on Tuesday (Alamy)

6 min read

The government has introduced new legislation to crack down on illegal migration to the UK.

As at 20 December, more than 45,000 people had crossed the Channel in small vessels since the start of 2022, a 60 per cent increase on the total of illegal crossings in 2021. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman have repeatedly set out tackling illegal migration as a government priority that is a key issue for voters, and ‘stop the boats’ was one of Sunak’s five new year pledges. 

The Illegal Migration Bill has been met with criticism from human rights groups and lawyers, while the home secretary has admitted it will “push the boundaries of international law”.

Sunak told The Sun that the new laws would end people trafficking across the Channel “once and for all”. 

Here is what the new Bill sets out to do and the reaction so far: 

What powers will the Bill introduce? 

The Illegation Migration Bill will curtail the rights of asylum seekers if they did not arrive in the UK via a safe or legal route.

New arrivals will be removed to a ‘third’ country and banned from ever returning or claiming citizenship.

The bill will enable the detention of illegal migrants without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention until they can be removed, and sets out a duty on the home secretary to remove illegal entrants.

It will aim to limit the ability of asylum seekers attempting to prevent deportation by relying on human rights laws.

The government’s controversial Rwanda asylum scheme has not so far deported any asylum seekers due to clashes with human rights laws. In 2022, a last-minute legal challenge prevented the first plane leaving the UK to deport migrants to Rwanda under the home secretary’s new scheme.

Braverman gave a statement to the Commons, where she said the Bill will allow the government to "stop the boats".

“It will allow us to stop the boats that are bringing tens of thousands to our shores in flagrant breach of both our laws and the will of the British people,” she said.

The home secretary added that the UK should “always support the world’s most vulnerable”, citing figures that the country has given sanctuary to half a million people since 2015. 

Who would be affected? 

The Bill would apply to those illegally crossing the Channel in small boats, except for children and the “gravely ill” who would remain in Britain while cases are considered.

Migrants would only be able to prevent their removal in “exceptional circumstances”, such as on asylum, human rights or modern slavery grounds. 

The Independent reported that those detained would be held for up to 28 days before efforts are made to deport them to their home country or Rwanda.

Those deported would be banned from future re-entry to the UK and would be unable to ever apply for British citizenship.

Any appeal claims would be heard after removal from the UK.

When does it come into force?

The Bill will be applied from Tuesday 7 March, with all cases backdated to this date, despite the Bill being expected to take months to pass through parliament. 

Therefore any migrants who cross the Channel illegally from now will be subject to the new law. 

How does the Bill work?

The Bill will restrict the use of the Human Rights Act by asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Government officials said the bill would include a “Section 19(1b) statement” under the 1998 Human Rights Act, acknowledging that the measure could be incompatible with the ECHR.

The use of this statement implies ministers cannot say with absolute confidence that it will not breach ECHR rules, making it possible the issue will be legally challenged. 

What are the controversies surrounding the Bill? 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was "fair for those at home and those who have a legitimate claim to asylum” and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris described the Bill as "very black and white", adding: “If you come to the country illegally, you can't claim asylum.”

However, a number of human rights groups and charities oppose the plans, and some lawyers have questioned how the Bill can act lawfully, with Labour leader Keir Starmer describing the plans as "unworkable".

Multiple members of the Labour frontbench have criticised the plans. 

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the government of going after “headline-grabbing gimmicks that won’t work”, while shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper questioned whether Sunak’s new rules added much to an act which was introduced last year to enable the criminal prosecution of asylum-seekers entering the UK illegally. 

“At the moment a lot of this looks like a rerun of things they had in last year’s law, which ended up making things worse,” she said.

Braverman has accused Labour of "betraying hard working Brits" by not backing the plans.

Some Conservative backbenchers have also raised doubts: Tim Loughton, a Tory member of the home affairs select committee, said the measure could act as a “deterrent” by making it clear you have no right to asylum if you come to the UK via small boats.

However, he said it would only “speed up deportations for those who are deportable”, instead of giving the Home Office power to deport anyone who crosses the Channel. 

The director of British Red Cross, Christina Marriott, told BBC News: “What the government has done so far, talking about removing people to Rwanda, talking about harsher asylum systems, isn’t working.

“We know numbers for crossings across the Channel are going up while removals from the country are going down. This isn’t the way we will reduce numbers. 

“One of the reasons we have more people coming across the Channel is because we have less people coming in lorries. This isn’t the crisis it’s made out to be.”

She suggested the government instead focus on “good, safe, controlled routes to asylum”.

Braverman confirmed the “full legal complexities” of the bill had not yet been addressed, and would be discussed in due course.

What next? 

The Bill was introduced to parliament by Suella Braverman on Tuesday. 

It is likely to face significant challenges in parliament from both Tory backbenchers and Labour, and it is possible it will be met with legal challenges.

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