RAKIB EHSAN Today is a vital chance to strike against people-smugglers

RAKIB EHSAN Today is a vital chance to strike against people-smugglers

July 11, 2023

RAKIB EHSAN: Today is a vital chance for the government to trump the Lords and strike a blow against people-smugglers

A wide range of forces are lined up against the Government as it fights a lonely battle to ‘stop the boats’.

They include the European Court of Human Rights, busybody charities, greedy lawyers and, of course, the organised criminal gangs who traffic migrants across the Channel.

But one of its most determined opponents is much closer to home. I refer to the unelected House of Lords. No body has proved to be more obstinate in its resolve to block No 10’s legislation.

One day in early June, one of its committees sat until 4.16am, such was its determination to leave no stone unturned in its scrutiny of the Illegal Migration Bill.

And when it voted on the version of the Bill to be sent back to the Commons, it included no fewer than 20 amendments — a total that is believed to be a record.

The House of Lords made a record 20 amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill before returning it to the Commons (File photo: Migrants travel on a small boat towards Dover)

Today, it is the job of the lower house to embark on the exhaustive task of restoring some of the vital legislative powers that the Lords have sought to undermine.

Even though the courts have made it almost impossible to return asylum seekers to their country of origin — just 2,866 were sent back last year, and that figure would have been much lower had it not been boosted by a near trebling in the number of Albanians who returned voluntarily — the peers seem bent on giving them even greater protections.

One of the Lords’ amendments allows for a judicial review if the asylum applicant believes that they have been incorrectly assessed to be an adult, for example.

This means that, if a Home Office official, based on their experience of processing applicants, deems a person to be over 16, that person — who is unlikely to have papers confirming their date of birth, because they have been either lost or deliberately left behind — could challenge that decision through the courts.

And so, as more and more cases are dragged through the judicial process, the backlog of unresolved applications builds, as does the bill to pay for the migrants’ accommodation. A bill that currently stands at £6 million a day.

As a new report from Policy Exchange notes, this rate of spending for a year amounts to a cost which is three and a half times the Government’s £630 million budget to tackle homelessness in the UK for 2022-23.

Almost 700 migrants made the journey across the English Channel last Friday (File photo: People travel on a small boat towards Dover) 

Amendments like these will do nothing to stem the ever-increasing number of people prepared to board a flimsy dinghy bound for the White Cliffs of Dover.

Last Friday alone, nearly 700 migrants made the journey, each putting their fate in the hands of unscrupulous people-smugglers who crowd their boats up to the gunwales.

It was the highest daily total to arrive this year, a year which is already shaping up to be another record-breaker thanks — at least in part — to the fact that last month was the hottest June on record.

A combination of warm weather, calmer seas and long hours of daylight encouraged so many to make the crossing that the monthly total was the highest since records began.

But plenty take their chances in the winter months, too, when the freezing waters of the Channel reduce the survival window for a capsized person to just 30 minutes.

You might think that a policy of deterrence would be the appropriate response in such circumstances, but the Lords appear to have no compunction in knocking down any proposals that would have that effect.

Take Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s plan to extend the period for which the authorities are permitted to detain unaccompanied minors. As things stand, an immigration official has the power to detain a child migrant for just 24 hours, a period that is extended to 72 hours if they are accompanied by an adult relative.

Home secretary Suella Braverman (pictured) put forward plans to extend the period for which authorities are permitted to detain unaccompanied minors

Ms Braverman may well have wanted to abolish these time limits in order to give border officials the time needed to determine the true intentions of teenage males — notoriously vulnerable to extremist influences — and examine the circumstances which led them to head to the UK.

Such a policy would also have a deterrent effect on others contemplating a small-boat trip across the Channel.

Again, in picking apart the Illegal Migration Bill, peers are unwittingly siding with the people-traffickers.

Another target of the Lords was the Government’s Rwanda scheme, under which illegal migrants would be sent to the East African country, while their asylum claims were processed. The Court of Appeal ruled last month that this scheme was not compatible with existing law, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

One clause in the Bill was designed to restrict the court’s ability to temporarily delay the removal of an individual to a third country.

Naturally, the unelected upper chamber wouldn’t have it. Amendment 152, passed by 153 votes to 128 against, removes this clause.

One of the peers who is an unlikely ally of the Government on Rwanda is a man who has traditionally been seen as a darling of the compassionate wing of the Conservative Party, former Chancellor Ken Clarke.

In a newspaper article yesterday, he wrote: ‘We cannot simply produce a lot of legalisms to shoot down the Rwanda scheme without making any suggestion whatever of a practical kind that is likely to have an impact on a great national problem, which we share as part of a global issue.’

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke (pictured) has emerged as an unlikely ally of the Government on its Rwanda scheme

A lawyer himself, Lord Clarke has followed intently the debates in the House of Lords on the Bill. But as he says: ‘I have listened keenly for an idea of how else we might deal with the mounting issue of irregular migration, but answer has come there none.’ Herein lies the most frustrating aspect of the humanitarian crisis growing on our southern coastline: aside from the Rwanda scheme, there isn’t a credible plan to stop it.

The Opposition know the issue is a minefield, so spout vague promises to crack down on the gangs of people-smugglers, rather than coming up with concrete proposals that might actually stem the flow.

Meanwhile, we send millions to the French government in a forlorn bid to encourage them to police the beaches of northern France more effectively. As recently as March, Rishi Sunak signed a £500 million deal with President Macron under which the French undertook to build a detention centre in Dunkirk and recruit 500 extra border staff.

It may have some impact in the future but, as we have seen, migrants continue to cross the Channel in large numbers.

Yes, we could lay on more safe routes around the world, through which people with a well-founded case can apply for asylum in the UK from their home countries, as the Lords recommends.

Such schemes are already run in Hong Kong and Ukraine. They have been remarkably successful in providing sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of desperate citizens and are something for the UK to be proud of.

But they do nothing to prevent those who are not fleeing persecution, but simply looking for a better life, from trying to get here illegally.

The only thing that can do that is a powerful deterrent.

If potential migrants knew that they could be flown to the heart of Africa within days of landing upon Britain’s shores, they might just think twice about handing over their life savings to a people-smuggler for the pleasure.

Ken Clarke knows it, the majority of the British people know it. If only our unelected Lords could see it, too.

  • Dr Rakib Ehsan is a social cohesion expert and author of Beyond Grievance: What The Left Gets Wrong About Ethnic Minorities.

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