Prime Minister Sunak listened to interior minister Suella Braverman set out the radical plans in parliament
London (AFP) - The British government hit back on Wednesday at critics including the United Nations and football presenter Gary Lineker, after he compared its new plan on illegal immigration to the rhetoric of Nazi-era Germany.
The Conservative government intends to outlaw asylum claims by all illegal arrivals and transfer them elsewhere, such as Rwanda, in a bid to stop thousands of migrants from crossing the Channel on small boats.
Stopping the boats is the “people’s priority”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons, vowing also to “break the criminal gangs” profiting from the journeys.
But rights groups and the United Nations said the legislation would make Britain itself an international outlaw under European and UN conventions on asylum.
“I am deeply concerned at this legislation,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.
“All people compelled to leave their country of origin to seek safety and dignity abroad are entitled to the full respect of their human rights, regardless of their migration status or mode of arrival.”
Presenting the Illegal Migration Bill in parliament, Home Secretary Suella Braverman attached a note conceding that she could not confirm yet whether the plan respected European human rights law.
But in a round of broadcast interviews, the interior minister insisted the government was within its rights to stop the seaborne migrants, who she said could total 80,000 this year.
- ‘Immeasurably cruel’ -
“We’re not breaking the law,” she told Sky News, claiming support from the “vast majority” of the British public.
“We are very confident that our measures that we’ve announced yesterday (Tuesday) are in compliance with our international law obligations.”
Lineker, an ex-England striker who presents the BBC’s flagship football coverage on TV, was warned by the broadcaster to respect its social media guidelines after he lashed out at Braverman on Twitter.
“Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” he tweeted over a video of Braverman explaining her plan, in his latest broadside against the Conservatives’ immigration policies.
The perilous nature of the Channel crossings has been underlined by several tragedies in recent years
“There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries,” Lineker noted.
“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”
Sunak’s press secretary told reporters his comments were “not acceptable”.
Braverman has often been accused of using inflammatory language over the migration issue, as the Conservatives try to restore their weak standing in opinion polls.
“I’m obviously disappointed that he should attempt to equate our measures with 1930s Germany,” she told BBC radio.
The minister vowed to be “honest” with the British public, while defending her claim that “billions” of migrants were “eager” to come to the UK.
Citing a similar, deeply controversial, policy in Australia, Braverman said the boat crossings would “fall dramatically” in time but could not say when.
- ‘Take back control’ -
Defending the policy Tuesday, Sunak said he was ready to fight legal challenges, as he vowed to “take back control of our borders once and for all” – reprising a popular pledge by Brexit campaigners in 2016.
But the prime minister, who meets French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Friday, faces pressure to restore migration cooperation with the European Union and get stronger action from Paris.
The perilous nature of the Channel crossings – with migrants traversing one of the world’s busiest waterways on fragile craft – has been underlined by several tragedies in recent years.
In November 2021, at least 27 people drowned when their dinghy deflated. They were mostly Kurds from Iraq and included a child aged seven.
If passed by parliament, the law would mean anyone arriving in this manner would be deported and never allowed to re-enter the United Kingdom or seek asylum.
The government's proposed toughening of legislation on migration has met with popular scepticism
More than 3,000 migrants have arrived by boat so far this year, often ending up in expensive hotels at taxpayers’ expense, and the backlog of asylum claims now exceeds 160,000.
The new plan would transfer illegal migrants to disused military barracks temporarily and cap the annual number of refugees who arrive legally.