Extreme plans backed by home secretary Suella Braverman to stop asylum-seekers crossing the Channel have been criticised as “unworkable” and “completely out of step with British values”.
In a clear bid to pressure Rishi Sunak into taking harsher action on small boat crossings, Ms Braverman has written the foreword to a think-tank report which calls for all asylum-seekers who enter the UK “illegally” to be detained indefinitely and banned from ever settling here.
The home secretary pledged that she and the prime minister will do “whatever it takes” to end the crossings, and is understood to also endorse recommendations to cap the numbers granted asylum at 20,000 a year and to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights “if necessary”.
But experts warned that the measures floated in the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies report would amount to the UK abandoning the UN’s Refugee Convention, which it signed nearly 70 years ago.
“The government seems intent on doubling down on the hostile environment with increasingly harsh, unworkable policies, which fly in the face of our long-standing international commitment to provide a safe haven to those fleeing war and persecution, regardless of how they escape to the UK,” said Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon.
“The asylum system isn’t operating effectively, but the answers don’t lie in floating more punitive measures that are impracticable and completely out of step with British values.
“The solutions are to be found in tackling the backlog of asylum cases through the creation of a dedicated task force, and in the UK leading the way in developing the safe routes needed to address what is a global refugee challenge,” Mr Solomon said.
The report, co-authored by Theresa May’s former aide Nick Timothy, also recommended that ministers should legislate to make it impossible to claim asylum in the UK after travelling from a safe country, and proposes mandatory identity cards for migrants.
And its authors urged the government to seek deals with other countries to supplement the currently stalled plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda for processing – to which Mr Sunak said he was open, during his failed leadership bid in the summer.
In her foreword, Ms Braverman said that although she did not agree with everything in the report, she welcomed it “as a vital and necessary contribution”.
“The British public are fair-minded, tolerant and generous in spirit. But we are fed up with the continued flouting of our laws and immigration rules to game our asylum system,” she wrote.
“And we’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end. Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration. It is the reality acknowledged and felt by the vast majority of the British public. To pretend otherwise is to insult them.”
She added: “The prime minister and I are committed to doing whatever it takes. We are finalising our plan, and we will deliver the operational and legislative changes necessary to comprehensively tackle this problem.”
Ms Braverman has said deporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda is her “dream” – and her re-appointment by Mr Sunak less than a week after she resigned for breaching the ministerial code was largely seen as a move to appease hardline figures on the right of the Conservative Party.
Ministers are understood to have not yet agreed upon the details of planned immigration legislation, which is not expected to be published until the new year – but minister Robert Jenrick said the government must “recreate” the system “so that it’s fit for purpose”.
“That will mean creating a system where deterrence is through the whole thing,” the immigration minister said on Saturday.
“It will also mean looking at how we treat people on arrival, so that nobody thinks that coming to the UK is a soft touch, and the UK is not a better site for asylum shoppers than our EU neighbour.”
He also indicated that barring people from safe countries such as Albania from claiming asylum was among the measures being considered by ministers. Albania is the second-largest source of asylum claims, with some 7,000 arrivals in the 12 months to June – slightly more than Iraq and considerably fewer than Iran.
The number of people crossing the Channel in small boats has increased to record levels this year as other routes into the UK have been restricted, with the number of asylum applications rising to a 20-year high of 63,089 in the year to June – still far below a previous peak of 84,132 in 2002.
The initial asylum refusal rate was 24 per cent over the same period – the lowest it has been since 1990 – and many of the applicants included in that figure should be able to successfully appeal those decisions.
However, the number of claims processed by the Home Office has fallen in recent years, and thousands are being left in limbo in hotel accommodation as a result of the backlog crisis – with MPs told in October that just 4 per cent of claims by 2021 boat arrivals had been processed.
The number of people waiting more than three years for a decision has more than quadrupled in just 18 months, with 33,746 adults waiting more than a year, according to Home Office data.
Ms Braverman has faced criticism around overcrowding and disease outbreaks at migrant processing centres, and a 2021 inspection report of the now-closed Tug Haven facility published this week alleged that one teenager at the centre had been “scarred for life” after chemical burns were left untreated for two days.
“Neither the number of people crossing the Channel to come here illegally, nor the overall level of legal immigration we have right now, is sustainable,” said Mr Timothy, co-author of the think-tank report.
“It is not something that can be fixed through gradual, incremental change,” he added. “We need a completely different approach and if human rights laws prevent us from taking that approach and securing our border, we must be prepared to change those laws and if necessary leave the ECHR altogether.”
Refugee charities have urged the government to create more safe routes for people to claim asylum to prevent people making the treacherous journey across the Channel.