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UK Government Passes Contentious Legislation to Curtail Small Boat Crossings

In a Council of Europe summit held in Iceland, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak engaged with European leaders to address the pressing issue of migration. He lauded the newly passed bill as a “novel and ambitious” approach that aligns with international obligations. Despite facing resistance within his own Conservative party, the UK government triumphed in the House of Commons, paving the way for the bill to proceed to the House of Lords.

The bill seeks to prevent individuals from claiming asylum upon entering the UK via small boats or without prior permission. It places a “legal duty” on the home secretary to detain and deport such individuals either to a “safe” third country or their country of origin. Last year’s record-breaking influx of 45,000 people arriving in the UK via small boats spurred the government, led by Sunak, to prioritize curbing cross-Channel migration. However, this approach tests the boundaries of international law.

While Home Secretary Suella Braverman assured that the UK would remain compliant with international obligations, critics argue that the bill, if enacted, would violate the UN Convention on Refugees and other treaties. The Scottish National Party’s home affairs spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, accused MPs of effectively voting to “break the law.” Notably, MPs supported last-minute amendments granting the home secretary the authority to override judgments from the European Court of Justice.

One amendment, which drew criticism from former Prime Minister Theresa May, raised concerns about endangering victims of modern slavery. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick defended the bill, asserting that most individuals crossing the Channel via small boats were “essentially asylum shoppers.” The legislation aims to send a resolute message that illegal entry will not provide a pathway to building a life in the UK, emphasizing the potential for detainment and removal.

Despite the government’s efforts to balance its approach by pledging to create safe and legal routes for asylum seekers, opposition persists. Labour’s shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, criticized the bill as unworkable, unaffordable, and ethically problematic, highlighting the squandering of taxpayers’ money on a policy destined to fail.

In its quest to address the challenges of migration, the UK government faces an arduous path as it encounters opposition, legal complexities, and ethical concerns.

By: Karoline Mikkel

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