Suella Braverman’s ‘stop the boats’ plan would bar 45,000 children from UK

Refugee Council’s claims on impact of her bill come as the home secretary, on a visit to Rwanda, faces pressure from her own party

Suella Braverman’s plan to stop the Channel crossings would see as many as 45,000 children effectively barred from refugee status in the UK, the Observer has been told.

The claims are made in a forthcoming Refugee Council report analysing the overall impact of the illegal migration bill, which reveals the possible extent of children who could have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible under the new laws. The news comes as the home secretary is facing a mounting rebellion from both wings of the Tory party over her controversial plans to tackle the Channel crossings, amid growing concerns over their impact on children and trafficking victims.

Braverman is on a visit to Rwanda that follows a deal to deport asylum seekers to the African country once they arrive in the UK. The plan is on hold after a court challenge.

However, senior Tories are already involved in plans this weekend to overhaul her proposals, which would see asylum seekers arriving in small boats automatically barred from settling in the UK. Ex-ministers are engaged in the attempts to remould the policy, while former prime minister Theresa May has already raised her concerns over its impact on the victims of human trafficking.

Meanwhile, an attempt is also expected to be made to strengthen the government’s ability to ignore the European court of human rights in tackling the Channel crossings. Some Tories believe the plans do not go far enough in disregarding human rights legislation and suspect Braverman would also like to go further.

“They have got a problem at both ends of the party,” said one key figure involved in revising the plans. “They’ve got a problem at the ultras end – people who think the bill needs to go further and specifically do more to exclude provisions of the Human Rights Act. Frankly, that’s where the home secretary is.

Migrants including women and children are removed from a Border Force vessel after being picked up in the Channel
Migrants being picked up in the Channel. There are growing concerns among Tories over the new bill’s impact on children and trafficking victims. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“Then you’ve got people like me and a host of others. It is not a slam dunk they can beat us in the Commons, and we can at least strengthen the hand of the Lords by showing there are real concerns among MPs [over these plans].”

Despite the rebellions, Braverman is resisting any amendments to her illegal migration bill, which the Home Office is attempting to rush into law. Insiders said that attempts to add protections for children and families, as well as trafficking victims, could end up creating loopholes that would be exploited by the gangs involved in transporting people across the Channel.

The growing Conservative concerns come after a Commons debate on the proposals last week that saw several senior figures, including May, express their reservations. May, who introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 when home secretary, said the Home Office “knows genuine victims of modern slavery would be denied support” under the bill.

“As it currently stands, we are shutting the door to victims who are being trafficked into [modern] slavery [in] the UK,” she said. “Anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong.”

Former ministers Caroline Nokes, Robert Buckland, Stephen Hammond, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore are among those with concerns. The bill says refugees who arrive in the UK without prior permission will be detained for 28 days and that asylum claims will be deemed “inadmissible” whatever the individual’s circumstances. This includes children.

In the Commons, Braverman told MPs that the duty to remove “will not be applied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”. However, concern remains around the detention of families, as well as the broad powers handed to Braverman over the treatment of unaccompanied children. Braverman excluded certain media outlets from her Rwanda trip, including the Guardian and the BBC. She said departing migrants to the country “will act as a powerful deterrent against dangerous and illegal journeys”. Braverman is due to meet the country’s president, Paul Kagame, and her counterpart Vincent Biruta to discuss the deal. She claimed that Rwanda could hold “many thousands” of migrants – although none have yet been relocated.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats’ leader, said the trip was “an expensive distraction from the immoral, unworkable Braverman bill”. He added: “Suella Braverman is wasting taxpayers’ money to flaunt the Conservative party’s latest vanity project in Rwanda. Liberal Democrats will oppose this appalling, anti-refugee law, which is nothing more than a criminal traffickers’ charter.”


Michael Savage Policy Editor

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