Tories pile pressure on Rishi Sunak to hurry up with 'stop the boats' pledge

Tory MPs want Rishi Sunak to stop small boats illegally crossing the English Channel. Credit: PA

By Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer

Tory MPs are piling pressure on Rishi Sunak to hurry up with his plan to cut illegal immigration amid concerns about the small boats bill being delayed.

The prime minister, who has made 'Stop the Boats' one of his top priorites, said he was working as quickly as he could as he responded to several questions about the pledge from his own backbenchers at PMQs.

He promised to stop illegal Channel crossings after a record 45,755 migrants reached the UK last year - but this year more than 2,500 have already succeeded despite winter weather conditions.

And many Tory MPs are angry that his anti-illegal immigration bill, which he says will reduce crossings, has still not been published.

What did Rishi Sunak's backbenchers tell him at PMQs?

Former minister Esther McVey led the charge at Prime Minister's Questions, telling Mr Sunak that "time is of the essence".

She said: "The prime minister has made fixing illegal migration across the channel one of his key priorities. he’s also said legislation will be required to stop it - I completely agree.

"So can he tell us when we can expect to see this legislation coming forward as time is of the essence?"

Tory MPs Sir Bill Wiggin, Esther McVey and Theo Clarke all asked Rishi Sunak about illegal immigration at PMQs. Credit: Parliament

The PM insisted the government is “working at pace on the legislation” but that did not stop more of his backbenchers using their time at PMQs to pile on the pressure.

Conservative MP for North Herefordshire Sir Bill Wiggin said: “I wholeheartedly support my prime minister’s priority to stop the boats. So could he please bring in the small boats bill next week?”

Mr Sunak said: “The home secretary and I are working intensely and as quickly as possible to bring forward that legislation, because what I want is what he wants, it’s to ensure that those people who come here illegally will simply not be allowed to stay.”

Conservative MP Theo Clarke also asked about illegal immigration, urging Mr Sunak to reconsider a proposal to relocate "500 single male asylum seekers" to her Stafford constituency.

She asked for an “urgent” meeting, saying she has received a “huge amount of objections” from constituents.

Mr Sunak said: “I know that this is an issue that is concerning her and her constituents, and it’s why we must absolutely stop the boats and stem the tide of illegal migrants to relieve this pressure on our local communities.”

What is the plan to stop the boats?

Mr Sunak's policy to tackle illegal immigration will see the government bring in new legislation designed to reduce the role of law courts in the asylum process.

For example, a plan to deport illegal immigrants to Rwanda has never succeeded due to legal challenges.

It has been reported that the small boats bill will prevent judicial reviews for migrants unhappy they've been excluded from the asylum system.

Another part of the bill is said to only allow legal challenges to be lodged after the migrant has been deported.

The Home Office has said the law "will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and swiftly removed to another country".

But Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is in charge of the policy, was unclear what 'stop the boats' actually meant or what the plan would entail when asked by ITV News.

She suggested it was not a pledge to stop illegal immigration entirely, but to see a "dramatic reduction" in numbers.

The senior Tory appeared to suggest that government plans would have made an impact in 12 months’ time before appearing to row back on the suggestion.

“You can judge me on results. Words don’t matter. We have told you that we want to stop the boats. You will come here in a year or so and it’ll be very clear whether we’ve succeeded or not,” she said.

“We will see a dramatic reduction in the numbers arriving illegally.”

Asked if that would happen in a year, she said: “I’m not going to put a timescale on it, but what I am going to say is it’s going to take as long as it will take.

“It is absolutely essential that we do whatever it takes to stop the boats. To that, I am 100% committed.”

Why are people angry?

Many MPs, particularly in northern and working-class areas, are feeling pressure from their constituents to address the problem, with some blaming migrants for social struggles.

They're urging the government to cut the problem before the next general election in order to avoid punishment at the ballot box.

Anger has bubbled over into violence in some areas. A protest outside a hotel housing migrants in Merseyside grew to resemble a riot recently, with a police van vandalised and fireworks thrown.

Fifteen people, including a 13-year-old boy, were arrested after violence erupted during the demonstration outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley on February 10.

Merseyside Police said the violence, which has been condemned by politicians, left an officer and two members of the public with slight injuries.

The protest followed reports on social media of an incident in Kirkby where a man made inappropriate advances towards a teenage girl.

Many blamed far-right groups for the protest, and the government said it would step up monitoring of them.

Home Office minister Robert Jenrick said the behaviour of a number of groups involved in the protest and others “is at times disgraceful, vile and should be stamped out”, adding they are being monitored “closely” and action will be taken against them if necessary.

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