Illegal Migration Bill breaches UK human rights obligations, MPs and peers warn

Credit: PA

The Illegal Migration Bill breaches a "number of the UK’s human rights obligations", MPs and peers have warned ministers.

Most asylum seekers arriving in the UK after the flagship legislation has been passed would have their claim "declared inadmissible", according to a report published by Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Chairwoman Joanna Cherry MP said children were "affected by every aspect" of what Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has dubbed the Stop The Boats Bill - and vulnerable groups, including victims of trafficking and modern slavery, would be disproportionately impacted.

She said the knock-on impact could be that the number of people being trafficked increases because of the government's proposals.

The Joint Committee is urging ministers to make changes so as not to breach Britain's legal obligations to those fleeing persecution and conflict.

The Illegal Migration Bill, which Mr Sunak has said is a key part of his pledge to stop small boats of migrants from crossing the English Channel, has been passed by the Commons. However, it continues to meet fierce criticism in the Lords, including from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

The Bill aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly deported, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

The committee's findings are published in its report, Legislative Scrutiny: Illegal Migration Bill, published on Sunday. The report includes an annex containing suggestions for how the draft law could be amended.

Joanna Cherry is chairwoman of Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights. Credit: PA

The MPs and peers state in the 152-page report: "We conclude that this Bill breaches a number of the UK's international human rights obligations and risks breaching others.

"The home secretary herself has been unable to certify that the Bill is compatible with Convention rights.

"We therefore urge the government to consider our conclusions and recommendations in order to address the human rights incompatibilities within this Bill."

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has admitted the legislation has more than a 50% chance of being incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

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In a letter to MPs and peers sent in March, Mrs Braverman said she was compelled to make the statement under the Human Rights Act, which enshrined the convention in the UK.

Ms Cherry said: "When she introduced this Bill to Parliament, the home secretary took the unusual step of making a statutory declaration under the Human Rights Act that she was unable to state that the bill was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"However, she has stated elsewhere that the Bill is compatible with international law. We disagree.

"Having carried out legislative scrutiny of the Bill it is overwhelmingly clear that it breaches a number of the UK's international human rights obligations including the ECHR and risks breaching others."

Ms Cherry, a qualified barrister, said most people fleeing persecution or conflict currently have "no safe and legal way of getting here".

She continued: "Under the Bill, any refugee or victim of modern slavery who comes to the UK irregularly and indirectly, as most do, will automatically have their asylum claim declared inadmissible.

"They will also be subject to detention without time limit and removal from the UK irrespective of the merits of their claims.

"The Bill applies not only to refugees but also to victims of trafficking and slavery. By treating victims of modern slavery as 'illegal migrants' subject to detention and removal, this Bill would breach our legal obligations to such victims and would risk increasing trafficking of vulnerable people.”

The SNP MP added: "The UK has international legal obligations to those fleeing persecution and conflict, victims of modern slavery, and children. The Bill needs to comply with these obligations."

Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Migration Bill in March. Credit: PA

The Home Office said excluding children and modern slavery victims from the scope of the Bill could provide "incentives" to human traffickers.

A spokeswoman for the department said: "It is not compassionate to allow people to die in the Channel.

"We cannot allow a system to continue where people are incentivised to make dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys to the UK, which is why the Illegal Migration Bill will see people who enter the country swiftly returned home if it is safe or removed to a safe third country.

"This legislation sends a clear message that the exploitation of people ferried across the Channel must end - and it is also right that we protect the most vulnerable by not creating incentives for criminal gangs to target specific groups, including children and modern slavery victims, by excluding these cohorts from the legislation.

"We remain committed to ensuring the Bill passes through Parliament as soon as possible, so we can stop the boats."

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