Senior Conservatives fear Rishi Sunak is “over-promising” on fixing the small boats crisis and will fail to deliver in time for the next general election.
The number of migrants crossing the English Channel so far this year is over double the figure seen at the same point in 2022, despite the PM making a promise to “stop the boats” one of his five key pledges to the British public.
Mr Sunak claimed that new laws will ensure that “if you come here illegally, you will not to be able to stay”, but The Independent understands that the final details of the legislation has not yet been fully drafted.
Tory MPs are becoming increasingly uneasy over the legislation, launching a volley of questions aimed at the prime minister and home secretary Suella Braverman.
A former minister told The Independent that even if the law is brought forward next week, it will face strong opposition and could be mired in new legal challenges.
“They’ve over-promised and now they’ve realised the clock is ticking,” the MP added. “Every week people are standing up at PMQs [prime minister’s questions] saying ‘where is the legislation’?”
The bill is expected to be published on Tuesday. Under the proposals, those coming to the UK through an unsanctioned route will be detained for up to 28 days before efforts are made to deport them to their home country or Rwanda, according to reports.
But the ex-Tory minister believes lengthy parliamentary processes will take the law into the next session of parliament, meaning that nothing will be “operationalised” by the next general election.
Meanwhile, internal Home Office estimates predict another rise in small boat crossings this year, following successive annual records as previous attempted “deterrents” failed.
Almost 3,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year, more than double the 1,400 seen by the same point in 2022, which was itself a record year.
A former cabinet minister raised concern that Mr Sunak may not be able to bring the numbers down, adding: “A lot of people are placing hope in the fact that the Northern Ireland protocol means the French will help. But he has got to try, that is the political reality. People need to see those numbers come down – and before the next election.”
The government has not yet fully implemented last year’s Nationality and Borders Act, which has so far failed to achieve its aim of making small boat migrants “inadmissible” for asylum.
Rishi Sunak vows that Channel crossings will stop if he becomes PM
With the Rwanda scheme still stalled amid ongoing legal challenges and an EU-wide returns deal not replaced since Brexit, there are few countries to send asylum seekers to even if the UK refuses to consider their claims.
A senior Tory MP told The Independent many moderates in the party were supportive of banning asylum claims for people arriving in small boats, but added: “It’s a real challenge to get it legally watertight, and there are logistical problems if you need to detain more people.
“But you hope it can stem so many people coming here, we need to try something.”
Another senior Tory MP, also supportive of banning the right to asylum for those arriving in small boats, said there was uneasiness about possible legal challenges and cautioned: “Whether it’s possible remains to be seen.”
The government has not provided details of how people will be prevented from claiming asylum without the UK breaking the UN Refugee Convention.
Home Office figures show that Afghans are now the largest group of small boat migrants, having overtaken Albanians in the autumn. Although 98 per cent of Afghan asylum applications are granted, ministers have not ruled out sending them to Rwanda.
Mr Sunak said the new powers would help fulfil his pledge to “stop the boats once and for all”, writing in the Mail on Sunday: “Make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not to be able to stay.”
Several Tory MPs demanded to know when the law would be brought forward, with former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey warning: “Time is of the essence.”
Experts and charities have forecast that small boat crossings will continue to rise unless the government expands alternative routes.
Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, told The Independent: “For all the prime minister’s rhetoric, small boat crossings have sky-rocketed to double what they were at this point last year.
“This is the inevitable consequence of pathetic headline-chasing and government by gimmick, in place of serious solutions and hard work.”
The Refugee Council said rising Channel crossings was a “direct consequence of safe routes being so limited and ineffective”.
Chief executive Enver Solomon added: “The government’s efforts to deter desperate people from crossing the Channel will continue to fail, simply because they’re doing nothing to address the reasons people come. But the solution is clear: we must create safe and orderly routes for refugees to come to the UK.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the planned new law would “do nothing to prevent perilous crossings or save lives”.
Policy and advocacy manager Caitlin Boswell accused the government of “ignoring the evidence and manufacturing a crisis”, adding: “To see Rishi Sunak announcing yet another senseless anti-refugee law as the depth of government’s failure is revealed is nothing less than a travesty.”
The Care4Calais charity said that small boat crossings would “continue to increase because our government’s anti-refugee rhetoric is no alternative for workable solutions”.
Ministers have confirmed that the government has no plans to establish safe and legal routes for migrants crossing the Channel, and repeatedly claimed that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.
Ms Braverman told the Sun on Sunday: “It has to be that if you come here illegally you will be detained and swiftly removed. Our laws will be simple in their intention and practice – the only route to the UK will be a safe and legal route.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The public rightly expects us to stop the boats and fix our asylum system.
“We are taking immediate action to tackle the rise in dangerous and illegal crossings, by speeding up returns and stepping up enforcement and we will bring forward new laws to restore fairness to our system and break the business model of the people smugglers who profit from putting lives at risk.”