As the Illegal Migration Bill makes its way through the final stages in the House of Commons next week, the Government is set to be given the power to ignore injunctions made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Rishi Sunak has made it clear that one of his priorities as Prime Minister is to tackle ‘illegal migration’ – his new and controversial slogan ‘stop the boats’ was unveiled during his first major speech of 2023 and was subsequently followed by the introduction of the Illegal Migration Bill in March.
As the supposed ‘intractable’ issue of asylum seekers crossing the channel remains at the forefront of British politics, the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill is expected to provide Home Secretary, Suella Braverman with specific powers, in limited circumstances, to brush aside interim injunctions (known as Rule 39) from the ECHR which attempt to halt deportations.
When Priti Patel was Home Secretary, she passed legislation to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing. However, due to issues concerning human rights and international law, this policy has not been successful so far – under Rule 39, the ECHR used an injunction to block the removal of migrants to Rwanda last year.
A record number of people have entered the UK via the English Channel this year as 45,000 people have arrived which is up from 300 in 2018.
What does the Illegal Migration Bill say?
As set out by Suella Braverman last month, the Illegal Migration Bill 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. Migrants will not get bail or be able to seek judicial review for the first 28 days of detention.
Suella Braverman will also 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. Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, criticised the Conservatives for prioritising headline news stories over presenting practical and effective solutions. She regarded the bill as a “con” which will make the situation worse, failing to account for numerous issues such as the asylum backlog and family reunions.
Moreover, Keir Starmer asserted that there are “people who can’t go through the system, can’t be returned, and they will therefore end up in hotels and other accommodation at the taxpayers’ expense.”In October last year, it was found that the Government spends an estimated £7 million per day on accommodation for asylum seekers.
Additionally, the UK’s leading race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, compared the Bill to Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, based on the premise that it “sows the seeds for division” and “strips people of their humanity”.
The Bill is also expected to face challenges from the House of Lords. Former Lord Chief Justice and crossbench peer Lord Thomas said ignoring interim injunctions from the ECHR would be an “immensely serious step” and warned it “sets an extraordinarily bad example”.
In a letter to MPs following publication of the Bill, the Home Secretary even admitted that there is a “more (than) 50% chance” the bill is incompatible with international law.
The Illegal Migration Bill appears to be the Government’s latest way of fueling Britain’s ‘culture war’. As previous Conservative legislation on immigration has not been carried out in practice, the emphasis placed on this bill and the notion of asylum seekers as a large-scale security issue can be seen as a symbolic act — dividing the population on racial grounds is used as a method to conjure up support from those who perceive immigration as a threat.