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Is Sunak Failing on his Pledge to “Stop the Boats”?

rishi sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has suggested that he may not fulfil his promise to “stop the boats” before the next general election. This pledge is one of Sunak’s 5 key commitments for 2023 which also included halving inflation, growing the economy, lowering national debt and shortening NHS waiting times.

“Stop the boats”

The Prime Minister refused to say whether it was possible to “stop the boats” before voters go to the polls, most likely next year, despite asking them to judge him on the promise as part of his five pledges to the electorate.

Asked during a visit to a nursery in North Yorkshire whether he will be able to stop the boats by the next election, Sunak said “One of my five priorities is to stop the boats, the current system is both unsustainable and is completely unfair, but particularly unfair on British taxpayers who are forking out millions of pounds to house illegal migrants in hotels and local communities.

“That’s not right. We’ve got to put a stop to that. And we’re working on it. It’s not an easy problem to fix. I never said we would be able to solve it overnight, it will take time and we have to attack it from lots of different ways. But I am pleased that the number of illegal migrants crossing this year is down for the first time in some years.

“That shows that our plans are working but of course there’s still more to do and people should know I am determined to grip this problem and that’s why one of my five priorities is to stop the boats.”

Pressed again on whether it will be done by the next election, he said: “I want it to be done as soon as possible but I also want to be honest with people that it is a complex problem, there is not one simple solution and that it can’t be solved overnight and I wouldn’t be being straight with people if I said that was possible.”

This comes after the Government’s disastrous so-called “small boats week” earlier this month ended with asylum seekers being evacuated from the Bibby Stockholm barge due to an outbreak of Legionella bacteria and the deaths of at least six migrants in the Channel.

Sunak’s comments also come amid reports of tensions in the Home Office over the faltering efforts to halt Channel crossings, and amid calls for Home Secretary Suella Braverman to face the sack in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

The illegal migration bill

The illegal migration bill is central to the Government’s aim to “stop the boats”. The bill, which was unveiled in March, will prevent anyone entering the UK ‘illegally’ from claiming asylum. People removed from the UK will also be blocked from returning or seeking British citizenship in future.

Under this law, Suella Braverman will possess the power to send those arriving in the UK on small boats to Rwanda or a “safe” third country – this will take legal precedence over someone’s right to claim asylum. This signifies a divorce from current legislation, which grants all asylum seekers the right to remain in Britain to have their case heard. This bill has sparked fierce opposition from charities and opposition parties due to its problematic status with critics arguing that the bill could breach international refugee laws and undermine existing UK regulations aimed at preventing modern slavery.

Home Office asylum plans

Earlier this year, the Government had admitted that plans to make the asylum system more efficient were “in doubt” as a report by the UK’s independent public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that urgent action is needed to reach targets. The NAO argues that the Home Office’s plans set out in the asylum and protection transformation programme is necessary, but not sufficient alone to address the pressures in the asylum system. The report contends that changes will only work if all parts of the end-to-end asylum system can effectively manage the demands placed on them.

In response, a Home Office spokesman said it was working “non-stop” to reduce the backlog. “We know more must be done to bring the asylum system back into balance” he said, and argued that The Illegal Migration Bill “will stop the boats by detaining those who come to the UK illegally, and swiftly returning them to their home country or a safe third country.”

Final thought

The Government’s furthering of the culture war through the discourse of “stop the boats” and the promotion of the illegal migration bill is once again proving unhelpful. To deal with asylum seekers effectively, the Government must carry out coordinated efforts and provide support to the entire system.

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