A Tory MP has warned of a “wave” and “swarm” of migrants coming to the UK as the Commons debated the government’s controversial legislation to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel.
MPs have been discussing the Illegal Migration Bill tonight as it goes through its latest parliamentary stage before it can become law, as around 100 protesters gathered outside to voice their opposition to the plans.
While some Tories have hit out against “lefty lawyers” for making action on those arriving difficult, other opposition MPs have insisted the UK is “not swamped by refugees” and merely has an “incompetent government”.
The bill’s controversial proposals, which home secretary Suella Braverman has admitted may not adhere to international human rights laws, aim to stop people from making the perilous journey to the UK by boat after more than 45,000 people took the route from France last year.
But with clauses allowing the detention and swift removal of asylum seekers, it has received condemnation from refugee charities and opposition parties, who said the plans were “costly”, “unworkable”, and “promise nothing but more demonisation and punishment of asylum seekers”.
The government was forced to promise some changes to the bill late in the day after some of its own backbenchers threatened to rebel over the role of the courts and the introduction of new safe and legal routes.
But other amendments by opposition parties failed to get enough support to influence the legislation.
Arrivals ‘make a nonsense’ of immigration system
Speaking during the debate, Tory MP Sir John Hayes echoed words Ms Braverman had used about migrants and asylum seekers, which caused a backlash against the minister earlier this year.
He said the bill offered the chance to “deal once and for all with the matter of the boats arriving in Dover”.
The MP for South Holland and The Deepings in Lincolnshire added: “And I do use the words ‘tide’, ‘wave’… I think the home secretary described it as a ‘swarm’… of people coming here who know they are arriving illegally, who know they are breaking the law.
“For they know they have no papers or right to be here and therefore make a nonsense of an immigration system which must have integrity if it is to garner and maintain popular support.”
Continuing his speech, the veteran backbencher added: “It isn’t too much to make that simple statement, is it? It isn’t too much to expect a government maintains lawful control of our borders?
“And yet I hear constantly… that somehow that is militant, unreasonable, extreme. It is anything but those things.
“It is modest, it is moderate, it is just, it is virtuous to have a system which means that people who come here come here lawfully and the people who come here seeking asylum are dealt with properly.”
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Rebels on two fronts for the government
Sir John was among a number of Tory backbenchers who had been threatening to rebel against the bill if it did not include tougher measures to block the courts, especially the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), from intervening on deportation decisions.
Sir Bill Cash warned of “judicial activism” over the policy, while Jack Brereton spoke of “activist lefty lawyers” blocking the removal of migrants.
Danny Kruger echoed those arguments and called for “no more pyjama injunctions in the middle of the night” from the ECHR.
But fellow Tory Laura Farris said her colleagues “should be very wary of quick fixes”, adding: “We said throughout the Brexit debate we would be taking back control of our borders, but it is more complex than that.”
The rebel group calling for tougher measures on court intervention had promised not to push an amendment containing its plans to a vote after conversations with ministers over the weekend, who apparently promised to act on their concerns.
And immigration minister Robert Jenrick ensured the amendment’s withdrawal after his speech wrapping up the debate, promising to “engage closely with colleagues” ahead of the next stage of the bill.
He added: “We are united in our determination this bill would be a robust bill, that it will be able to survive the kind of egregious and vexatious challenges that we have seen in the past, and that it will enable us to do the job and remove illegal immigrants to safe third countries like Rwanda.”
However, the government was facing dissent from its own ranks on two fronts.
Other Conservatives from the more liberal wings of the party were calling for the government to create and improve safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum in the UK – a move which would likely have gained the support of opposition parties who plan to vote down the bill.
Tory MP Tim Loughton said he would push his own amendment to a vote unless he got “some substantial reassurances from the government” that new routes will be introduced as part of the bill.
Earlier, Mr Loughton told the Commons: “We need to be ruthless against the people smugglers who benefit from this miserable trade.
“[And] we want to continue to offer safe haven for those genuinely escaping danger and persecution and in a sustainable way.
“And that is why safe and legal routes is the obvious antidote to this problem.”
The Tory MP added: “I think this bill is a genuine attempt to get to grips with [the small boats issue].
“It would be much more palatable and much more workable if it contained a balance that has safe and legal routes written into the bill that comes in at the same stage.”
But again, Mr Jenrick announced changes to the plan to win over Mr Loughton and his supporters – promising to bring in new safe and legal routes next year.
The minister added: “As the prime minister has said, it is precisely because we want to help genuine refugees that we need to take full control of our borders.
“Safe and legal routes like those that we have brought forward in recent years, the safe and legal routes that have enabled almost half a million people to come into our country for humanitarian purposes since 2015, are exactly how we will achieve that.”
The debate also saw critics of the bill voice their concerns.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, said: “We on these benches are absolutely clear that we must bring the dangerous Channel crossings to an end and that we must destroy the criminal activity of the people smugglers.
“[But this bill only offers] headline chasing gimmicks which are the stock and trade of the benches opposite.”
He said even with the measures proposed, “the boats will keep on coming, the backlog will keep on growing and the hotels will keep on filling”, and said the plan was “not really worth the paper it is written on” and was “a dog’s breakfast”.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron also called the bill “dozy” and “dangerous”.
“We are not swamped by refugees,” he added. “We have a system, an asylum system, run by an incompetent government.
“What is maybe the most morally outrageous thing about this whole debate is that these people, whether they are genuine asylum seekers or not… they are being blamed for the government’s incompetence. What a moral outrage.”
MPs will return to the Commons tomorrow afternoon to debate the bill further.