Braverman repeats claim asylum system is 'overwhelmed' during small boats bill debate

Hundreds of people gathered in Parliament Square to protest against the Bill as the Home Secretary spoke in the House of Commons, ITV News' Romilly Weeks reports

Suella Braverman has told MPs that people crossing the Channel on small boats have "overwhelmed our asylum system" during a debate on the government's controversial Illegal Immigration Bill.

The home secretary repeated the claim, which had initially featured in a video released by the Home Office last week. The original claim sparked a crisis within the BBC after its sports presenter Gary Lineker compared the Home Office's words to language used in Nazi Germany.

On Monday evening, the Bill cleared its first House of Commons hurdle after MPs voted 312 to 250, majority 62, to give it a second reading.Speaking in the Commons, Ms Braverman claimed that while the British public are "fair, compassionate and generous" they are also "realistic", adding: "They know that our capacity to help people is not unlimited."

She went on to claim that she had been subjected to the "most grotesque slurs for saying such simple truths about the impact of unlimited and illegal migration".

"I will not be hectored by out-of-touch lefties, or anyone for that matter. I won’t be patronised on what appropriate views for someone of my background can hold. I will not back down when faced with spurious accusations of bigotry," she said.

"When such smears seep into the discourse of this chamber, as they did last week, accusations that this government’s policies - backed by the majority of the British people - are bigoted, are xenophobic or are dog-whistles to racists, it is irresponsible and, frankly, beneath the dignity of this place.

"Politicians of all stripes should know better and they should choose their words carefully."

As Ms Braverman spoke, hundreds of people gathered in Parliament Square to protest against the Bill.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who attended the demonstration, called the Bill "terrible", telling protestors: "This Bill basically criminalises anyone who arrives in this country in a very desperate state, it sends them off to Rwanda and puts them in a detention centre along the way.

"Our place here tonight in Parliament Square is to say to the MPs over there, vote against this Bill, oppose this Bill… oppose it all the way through."

During the debate, former prime minister Theresa May was one of a number of MPs who also expressed concerns about the government’s immigration reforms, telling the Commons: "Anybody who thinks that this Bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong."

She added: "The UK has always welcomed those who are fleeing persecution regardless of whether they come through a safe and legal route. By definition, someone fleeing for their life will more often than not be unable to access a legal route.

"I don’t think it’s enough to say we will meet our requirements by sending people to claim asylum in Rwanda. This matters because of the reputation of the UK on the world stage and that matters because the UK’s ability to play a role internationally is based on our reputation - not because we’re British, but because of what we stand for and what we do."

Ms May abstained from voting.

In a nutshell, the Bill forces detention on virtually everyone who enters the UK illegally, makes it impossible for most to claim asylum, deports them and bans re-entry.

A chasm of opinion has opened over the plan, with most Tories lauding it for seeking to bring down immigration numbers, but campaigners have attacked it for potentially breaching human rights laws.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is in the USA for security talks and will miss the debate, has insisted it will stay within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and said he is "up for the fight" if it is challenged in the courts.

Ms Braverman, however, has admitted she cannot say with confidence that it will not breach the ECHR.

She said herself and the PM had "pushed the boundaries of international law to solve this crisis" when devising the law and committed to press ahead with forcing it through Parliament.

What is in the Illegal Immigration Bill?

  • There will be a duty placed on the home secretary to detain anyone who arrives in the UK illegally, except the seriously ill and children

  • Powers would be granted to detain migrants for 28 days without recourse for bail or judicial review, and then indefinitely for as long as there is a “reasonable prospect” of removal

  • It will no longer be possible for people who enter the UK illegally to claim asylum

  • Anyone who crosses the English Channel to enter Great Britain will be deported, either to a safe third country, to Rwanda - which the government has signed an asylum deal with - or back to their home nation if it is not dangerous. Only those too ill to fly, under-18s, or migrants at serious risk of irreversible harm if they are deported will avoid relocation

  • Those who do enter illegally will be banned from ever returning

  • New safe routes for asylum seekers to apply to resettle in the UK will be established but only once the problem of small boats is resolved

  • The law could take months to be implemented but will be applied retrospectively, meaning anyone who arrives after its announcement will be subject to the consequences

  • A limit will be placed on how many refugees can be accepted, with Parliament to agree the number

Downing Street would not confirm whether there was a de facto ban on all claims for asylum in the UK, despite the Bill effectively blocking the only route to apply for people not fleeing Afghanistan, Syria or Ukraine.

As things stand, the only way for people not from those countries to apply for asylum is to physically be in the UK. The government plans to close that as an option.

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What is the opposition to the Bill?

Labour says the Bill is full of “false claims and promises” and will not achieve its goal of stopping illegal immigration, and a number of Tories appear to agree.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak’s Bill is unravelling. It is a con which will make our broken asylum system worse.

“Not only will it fail to tackle dangerous boat crossings, but it shows the repeated false claims and promises that both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have made.”

Here are the issues Labour has with the Bill:

  • Although the PM pledged that people coming to the UK illegally will be “swiftly returned”, he failed to secure return agreements with France and other countries except Rwanda

  • Mr Sunak said the Rwanda scheme is uncapped, but ministers have previously said the African nation can only take 200 people per year

  • The UK has the power to fast-track returns for Albania, but less than 1% of last year’s cases have been decided

  • Ms Braverman insisted the government is not breaking the law, but admitted in a letter to MPs that there is a “more (than) 50% chance” her legislation may not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights

Tory MPs Chris Skidmore and Caroline Nokes abstained from voting on Monday, having previously voiced concerns over the Bill.

Senior backbencher Ms Nokes said: "I fail to see what this legislation is going to do to act as a deterrent."

Mr Skidmore, who is standing down at the next general election, tweeted: “I am not prepared to break international law or the human rights conventions that the UK has had a proud history of playing a leading role in establishing.

“I will not be voting for the bill tonight.”

Could children be detained under the Bill?

Campaigners are concerned the legislation could see children and families detained and deported - something which would go against a commitment made by the Tory coalition government.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday that “special arrangements” would be made for children but he did not rule out the prospect of them being detained.

When pressed, he would not be drawn on whether the Bill will effectively overturn a ban – put in place by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government – on minors being detained in relation to immigration cases.

Tory former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland told GB News he did not think it was “right” to “treat children in that inhumane way”.

And Ms Nokes said she is "deeply troubled at the prospect of a policy which seeks to criminalise children, pregnant women, families and remove them to Rwanda".

She told Times Radio she could not vote for the Bill but was not sure how many of her Tory colleagues would join her.

"I might be an outlier in my party but I think we have an absolute duty to treat people humanely to keep people safe. I have absolute horror at the prospect," said Ms Nokes.

What happened with Gary Lineker?

Lineker compared the home secretary's language when launching the Bill to rhetoric used by Nazi Germany before he was forced to "step back" from presenting by the BBC.

Ms Braverman said "enough is enough. We must stop the boats" when referring to migrants crossing the English Channel in a Twitter video, adding that the UK was being "overwhelmed" by asylum seekers.

Lineker commented on the post: "There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.

"This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s."

Three days later the BBC decided to take Mr Lineker off Match of the Day amid impartiality concerns but swathes of his on-air colleagues said they would not participate in the corporation's football coverage in protest.

On Monday, BBC Director-General Tim Davie confirmed Lineker would be back on MOTD next week and apologised for the debacle.

Lineker said on Monday that he is glad a resolution had been found, adding that he looks forward to getting "back on air".