Small boats: what is Rishi Sunak’s plan, and how will it work?

The government is expected to unveil legislation on asylum seekers this week. Here’s a guide to what we know so far

The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is to announce laws stopping people entering the UK on small boats from claiming asylum. Details on the legislation, which is expected to be published on Tuesday, are scarce.

What do we know about the legislation?

It is expected to make asylum claims from those who travel to the UK on small boats inadmissible. It would see a duty placed on the home secretary, Suella Braverman, to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” – to Rwanda or a “safe third country” – anyone who arrives on a small boat.

How would it work?

The government appears to believe it has found a way round aspects of the European convention on human rights, which provides the ultimate legal authority for most deportation challenges. The Mail On Sunday reported that a clause in the new bill would apply a “rights brake”, but there are no details as yet on how this would get around the UK’s obligations under the ECHR.


What happens to those who arrive by small boats?

They will be prevented from claiming asylum while in the UK, and there are plans also to ban them from returning once removed. Asylum seekers currently have the right to remain in the country to have their cases heard.

When will the plans be announced?

Braverman is expected to unveil the new law, provisionally called the illegal migration bill, to parliament on Tuesday.

More details are expected on Friday when Braverman and Sunak head to France for a summit with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, where the issue of small boats will be on the agenda.

What do the critics say?

Campaigners have already hit out at the plans. Sonya Sceats, chief executive at 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,” she said.

Christina Marriott, executive director of strategy at the Red Cross, called the plans “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.

What happened to the Rwanda asylum plan?

The government’s scheme has been mired in legal challenges, and so far no flights carrying migrants to the Rwandan capital Kigali have departed. The first deportation flight, due to take off on 14 June 2022, was grounded and individuals removed. The high court ruled in December that the scheme was legal, but the decision is facing further challenges in the courts.

What do the statistics show?

The latest Home Office figures show that 2,950 migrants crossed the Channel on small boats this year. In 2022, more than 45,000 people arrived in the UK that way compared with 28,000 the year before. More than 160,000 people in the UK are waiting for decisions on their applications for asylum.


Emine Sinmaz

The GuardianTramp

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