Former Conservative home secretary Amber Rudd has called the government’s new small boats law “baffling” and accused her successor of making promises that “can’t be delivered”.
The ex-MP, who led the Home Office between 2016 and 2018, told an event in London: “Stop the boats – really? How? When?
“[They] promise things that can’t be delivered and people get irritated and run out of patience.”
Ms Rudd, who stood down as an MP after Boris Johnson became prime minister, accused the government of “not being frank and straight with the British people” about what was possible.
“In terms of the current plans, I find it baffling that the home secretary is proposing legislation which she admits is probably illegal,” she added.
The former MP said that small boat crossings had started rising during her last year as home secretary, but that officials believed at the time that dinghies were “much too dangerous” to be widely used.
Ms Rudd told an event hosted by the Reform think tank that under Theresa May’s government, ministers would “get out the map to find out where people were coming from in northern France”.
“We would look at spending money to make sure people could stay there,” Ms Rudd said.
“It was absolutely a part of what the country was trying to do to slow the number of people coming to the UK.”
Ms Rudd said that international aid spending, which is now being used partly to fund asylum seeker support inside Britain, was used to create “focused programmes on countries where people were leaving” to support them to remain and give the “strong message that Britain is not a field of gold”.
“We were able to have some success at keeping the boats at bay – and reducing the number of asylum seekers coming through the tunnel and coming through in cars and lorries – because of the great relationship with the French and the Eurodac database, which we’ve lost access to in Brexit,” she added.
“I’m afraid the working with the French has been an absolute catastrophe over the last few years and thank goodness Rishi is beginning to rebuild that bridge.”
The former minister voiced hope that the government would “be able to do something” with a summit being held with Emmanuel Macron on Friday.
The prime minister is expected to seek enhanced measures to prevent boats from leaving the French coast, although hundreds of millions of pounds have already been spent on security.
His new Illegal Immigration Bill would see small boat migrants detained and deported without the UK considering their asylum claims.
But with no returns agreements with France, the EU or any nations apart from Rwanda and Albania, critics have branded the plans “unworkable”.
Former Labour politician Jacqui Smith, who served as home secretary, between 2007 and 2009 told the same Reform event that the government’s plans were “about saying something rather than doing something”.
“They should get on with doing the hard years that are going to be necessary to put this right,” she urged.
“Clearly the major issue is the inability of the Home Office to get through asylum applications quickly enough… the legislation is the skeleton, the administration is the flesh and without it, you can’t deliver.”
Senior Conservatives have previously told The Independent of concerns that the government will fail to bring the new bill into operation before the next general election, and that the failure to meet its promise to “stop the boats” will cost them severely among voters.
Meanwhile, there is widespread unrest inside the Home Office over Suella Braverman’s admission that the bill may violate human rights, and the UN Refugee Agency’s warning that the plans are a “clear breach” of international law.
In a letter to MPs, Ms Braverman conceded there is a “more than 50 per cent chance” that her legislation may not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
But she later told Sky News: “We’re not breaking the law and no government representative has said that we’re breaking the law.
“We believe we’re in compliance with all of our international obligations, for example the Refugee Convention, the ECHR, and other conventions to which we are subject.”
A government document said the rights “raised” by the bill include the right to life, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, the prohibition of slavery, the liberty and security of the person, the right to a fair trial, private and family life, the right to an effective remedy and prohibition of discrimination.