Suella Braverman denied the government was breaking the law with her immigration proposals, even though she told Conservatives there was a more than 50% chance the plans could be against the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Home Secretary also sought to clarify whether, under the proposed rules, Olympian Sir Mo Farah would be deported as soon as he turned 18, or why he would not be deported because he was smuggled into the UK at the age of nine.
Asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boats will be detained and deported under the plans. Braverman and Rishi Sunak say the measures will effectively deter people from crossing the English Channel. However, neither the interior minister nor the prime minister are able to provide details on new detention centers for detained refugees or when people can be deported to Rwanda.
In revealing the plans to the Conservatives, Braverman admitted that the illegal migration bill “over 50%” would likely break human rights laws. The UN refugee agency said it was “deeply concerned” by the provisions of the bill that would give the government the power to criminalise, detain and deport asylum seekers, saying it would be “a clear violation of the Refugee Convention”.
“We are not breaking the law and no government official has said we are breaking the law,” Braverman told Sky News. “In fact, we have made it very clear that we believe we are complying with all our international obligations, for example the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and other conventions to which we are subject.
“They are breaking our laws, they are abusing the generosity of the British people and now we have to make sure they are stopped from doing so.”
The asylum backlog is growing, with a record 166,000 people waiting for a decision on their claims. But Braverman couldn’t say when the first asylum seekers would be deported under the new plans, or when more detention centers would be set up, because the capacity to hold refugees was exhausted.
Mr Sunak told a press conference in Downing Street that those arriving in the UK illegally would be removed “within a few weeks” and the bill would apply “retroactively” if passed.
Braverman told Sky News: “We are implementing new stopping places. I’m not going to give exact dates because we have logistical challenges that we always overcome… But we will be expanding our holding capacity very, very quickly to meet the needs.”
When asked if Farah would be deported under the proposals, Braverman initially turned the question around and told Sky: “Well, as I said, we are very proud of our world-leading modern slavery regime. We have world-leading protections against human trafficking, proud of the protections put in place by a Conservative government to protect the real victims of modern slavery.”
Pressed again, Braverman added, “We have very legal … for people who are real victims of modern slavery.”
The controversial bill will introduce a yearly cap, to be decided by Parliament, on the number of refugees the UK can shelter via safe and legal routes – but only after the boats are stopped.
Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are poised for a tense clash in the House of Commons after Labor described the proposed policy as a “fraud” that had no better chance of succeeding than previous Tory efforts to tackle migration.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “I think they are irresponsible in the way they do it. Again and again they resort to tricks, they resort to rhetoric, they pump up the debate on this issue, but they don’t really solve the problem.”
She said Labor would also look at the small boat issue, but the party was concerned about the policies a Conservative government would leave behind.
TV presenter Gary Lineker described the Tories’ latest plan to imprison asylum seekers arriving in the UK as “extremely awful”.
Lineker, who welcomed a second refugee to his home in Surrey last October, tweeted a video in which Braverman said: “Enough. We have to stop the boats. He replied, “Good God, this is more than awful.”
Braverman said his comments were “disappointing and unhelpful”. She told the BBC: “I think it’s not helpful to compare our measures, which are legal, proportionate and genuinely compassionate, to Germany in the 1930s. I also think that here we are on the side of the British.
“It is clear to everyone that the British people are fed up with this situation where thousands of people come here illegally at a huge cost to taxpayers and undermine our rights, and indeed British generosity.”