No new safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to UK before ‘small boats’ stopped, says minister

No new safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to UK before ‘small boats’ stopped, says minister

New safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to enter Britain should only be established once the flow of “small boats” across the Channel has been stopped, a minister said on Monday.

Policing minister Chris Philp insisted this should be the “sequencing” as MPs returned to Westminster for a showdown over the Government’s deeply controversial Illegal Migration Bill.

But backbenchers are increasingly hopeful that the Government will ditch this stance and agree to an amendment to set up more safe and legal routes for asylum seekers “in tandem” with the crackdown on “small boats”.

Simon Hoare MP, chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, told the Standard: “The Government needs to have more than one club in its golf bag.”

Opening up more safe and legal routes would be “another disruptor to the business model of people traffickers,” he added.

“We have to fight these people on all sorts of fronts,” he stressed.

The Tory move for more safe and legal routes is being led in the Commons by Tim Loughton, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, and could win support from Labour.

He argued that they “need to be in place before the legislation comes into force” to deal with the small boats.

But Mr Philp told LBC Radio: “This country, the UK, has a lot of safe and legal routes established already.

“In terms of creating more, my own view is that we should fix the illegal immigration problem first, stop the boats as the Prime Minister has committed, and then we can add in these additional safe and legal routes.

“We can be proud on our track record on safe and legal routes, we need to stop the illegal immigration.

“The Government is willing to establish new safe and legal routes.

“That is the express commitment but in terms of sequencing we have got to fix the illegal immigration problem first.”

He emphasised that at least 23,000 people had arrived in the UK from Afghanistan through safe and legal routes, over 200,000 from Ukraine and 25,000 from Syria and surrounding countries, as well as thousands from Hong Kong.

However, backbench MPs are hopeful that Rishi Sunak will agree to the proposed timing for more safe and legal routes to be established quickly, with a minister either signalling that on Monday in the Commons or at a later stage in the Lords.

Reports suggested that up to 20,000 migrants could be offered a new safe and legal route to the UK every year.

However, Tory Rightwingers are pushing for the bill to be toughened up.

MPs were on Monday preparing to go through the legislation line by line.

The controversial legislation designed to put a stop to migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats returns to the House of Commons for its committee stage.

The Prime Minister is facing objections to the terms of the Bill from two wings of his party, both the liberal and the right.

Right-wing MPs have signalled that it does not go far enough, with some calling for ministers to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to drive through tighter border controls.

Others on the liberal wing want to see Mr Sunak commit to establishing safe routes via which asylum seekers can come to Britain.

Under the legislation’s proposals, it would see asylum seekers arriving through unauthorised means being detained without bail or judicial review for 28 days before being “swiftly removed” to their home country or a “safe third country” such as Rwanda.

In preparation for two days of debates on the small boats law, tens of would-be Tory rebels have put their names to amendments designed to tighten rules around blocking deportations and migrant accommodation in Britain.

As of Sunday, close to 30 Tories had put their name to an amendment to the Bill that would stop the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) from preventing removals from taking place.

It comes after the ECHR last year granted an injunction, via its Rule 39, that effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

But reports on Monday suggested Tory MPs were withdrawing amendments as the Government was in “listening” mode.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been in what she called “constructive” negotiations with the Strasbourg court to secure a higher legal threshold for any injunction under Rule 39 to be imposed on any future deportation flights.

It is understood the discussions have also involved the European court taking the UK High Court’s decision into account when considering any future Rule 39 orders.

In an amendment sponsored by Tory Devizes MP Danny Kruger, he wants the provisions in the Bill to “operate notwithstanding any orders of the Strasbourg court or any other international body”.

Former minister Andrea Jenkyns, one of its backers, tweeted that she had signed amendments with the intention of “strengthening the bill and stopping the European Court of Human Rights’ laws superseding British law”.

Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove was asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme if the rebels’ ECHR amendment would be considered by the Government.

It follows reports that Downing Street officials are preparing to meet with a gang of rebels on Monday to discuss their concerns about the legislation.

Mr Gove suggested Home Office ministers were open to further talks about the strength of the Bill.

He said: “I know that the immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been working incredibly hard to make sure that this legislation works, has been talking to MPs who may be in a position to ensure that every aspect of this Bill works.”

Downing Street said Mr Sunak is continuing to engage with backbenchers over the legislation’s proposals.

A Home Office source said the legislation contains a “marker clause” relating to ECHR deportation orders.

It is understood the clause allows for initial negotiations with Strasbourg to conclude before ministers consider setting out further legal measures.

Mr Sunak and Ms Braverman have both stressed that they think the draft law complies with international obligations and that Britain would not need to exit the European Convention on Human Rights to introduce the plans.

But in a letter to MPs following publication of the Bill earlier this month, the Home Secretary conceded there is a “more (than) 50% chance” her legislation may not be compatible with the convention.