Priti Patel said every country ‘has a moral duty and responsibility to address this issue’
The home secretary says the increased penalties are intended to act as a deterrent against refugees trying to come to the UK in small boats across the channel – but critics say the plans will reduce support for victims of human trafficking and genuine refugees.
Priti Patel has said a new immigration bill will “break the business model” of people trafficking gangs facilitating illegal crossings into the UK.
The home secretary said the new legislation was aimed at “addressing our broken asylum system” and taking action “in a way that we have been unable to take action in the past because of our membership of the European Union”.
The Nationality and Borders bill, unveiled in parliament today, will give Border Force officers the powers to turn back migrant boats attempting to cross the channel from France, and use “reasonable force, if necessary”.
For the first time the way in which a person arrives – legally or illegally – will have a bearing on whether their asylum application is accepted.
Prison sentences will also be increased for people who enter the UK without permission from six months to four years, and a maximum of life imprisonment for convicted people smugglers will be introduced.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a lifeboat following a small boat incident in the Channel earlier on Sunday. Picture date: Sunday July 4, 2021.
The home secretary said a particular focus of the bill will be to make asylum applications invalid from those who have passed through safe European countries.
“People who come from France, come from Germany, come from safe countries around the world who then cross the channel in small boats in very dangerous conditions as well, they will not be able to claim asylum in the UK in the way they have been able to for too long”.
“This bill will break the business model these criminal gangs are using.”
Ms Patel rejected the suggestion this commitment was dependent on bilateral deals with France and other countries, which are unlikely to be straightforward, and threatened “penalties” against countries who do not cooperate.
“When it comes to our own duties and responsibilities we take back our own nationals from around the world and every country has that moral obligation to do so. We will consider penalties – and it could be visas, it could be other aspects such as visa fees, or even slowing down processing – we will consider all options and that is one of the measures in this Bill”.
A record number of people have made the journey across the English Channel in small boats this year, with nearly 6,000 reaching the UK in the first six months of 2021.
But Labour say the legislation amounts to an admission of failure of the government to control the borders.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Conservatives have finally admitted that their 11 years in power has resulted in a broken asylum system – the responsibility lies on their shoulders.
“Yet despite these failings, the measures being proposed in this bill do not deal with the chaos they have created.
“They don’t deal with the fact that the time taken to process claims has rocketed or desperate people are still falling victim to criminal gangs.
“Instead, they will reduce support for victims of human trafficking, potentially break international law, and there are still no effective, meaningful proposals to deal with the increasing number of people risking their lives crossing the Channel.”
A coalition of more than 250 charities and campaign groups, including the Refugee Council and the British Red Cross, have joined together to demand the government rethink its approach.
Chief executive of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon said the new bill risked preventing up to 9,000 people who have fled war and persecution from being given safety in the UK, despite being eligible under previous rules.
He described the legislation as the “anti-refugee Bill” and accused the Home Office of “choosing to not only turn away those in need of safety but also treat them as criminals”.
The Home Office has insisted the changes will “prioritise those most in need of protection while stopping the abuse of the system”.