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Stopping Illegal Immigration Is Priority for British People, Sunak Says

Preventing illegal immigrants from reaching Britain’s shores in small boats is a priority for the British people, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said as he defended the government’s plan to crack down on illegal crossings in the English Channel.

The government on Tuesday unveiled the Illegal Migration Bill, which will ban anyone who arrives in the UK illegally from claiming asylum.

Under the new law, illegal entrants will be swiftly removed from the UK to their home country or a safe third country like Rwanda. They will also be banned from reentry.

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An inflatable craft carrying illegal immigrants crosses the shipping lane in the English Channel off the coast of Dover, England, on Aug. 4, 2022. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The main opposition Labour Party opposes the plan. A Labour spokesman confirmed to reporters in Westminster on Wednesday that the party’s MPs would be instructed to vote against the bill.

During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Sunak said the government will implement the plan as soon as it passes through Parliament.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the government plan, accusing the government of delivering “utter failures” and warning the “problem just gets worse with every new gimmick.”

But Sunak said, “Stopping the boats is not just my priority, it is the people’s priority.”

He accused Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, of being “just another leftie lawyer standing in our way.”

‘Stop the Boats’

According to government figures, a record 45,755 illegal immigrants arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel in 2022.

More than 3,000 have already made the journey this year. The latest Home Office figures show 197 made the crossing on Monday, taking the total to date to 3,150.

The prime minister has made “stopping the boats” one of his five priorities, and has said he is “determined to deliver” on his promise.

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UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman arrives in Downing Street, central London, on March 7, 2023. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Announcing the new bill on Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said it would “betray” British voters not to tackle illegal Channel crossings.

She said that the new bill allows the detention of illegal arrivals without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention, until they can be removed.

It places a duty on the home secretary to remove illegal entrants and it will “radically narrow the number of challenges and appeals that can suspend removal.”

The bill will also introduce an annual cap, to be decided by Parliament, on the number of refugees the UK will offer sanctuary to through safe and legal routes, Braverman said.

Sunak told a Downing Street press conference that illegal immigrants will be removed “within weeks” and that the bill will apply “retrospectively” if passed.

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Detainees inside the Manston short-term holding centre for illegal immigrants wave to members of the media outside, near Ramsgate, Kent, southeast England, on Nov. 3, 2022. (Daniel Leal /AFP via Getty Images)

Numbers Will ‘Fall Dramatically’

Talking to the BBC on Wednesday, Braverman said the new plans will result in a dramatic fall in the number of illegal small boat crossings.

She said, “We will see, based on other countries’ experiences, that, once we’re able to relocate people who’ve come here illegally from the United Kingdom to another safe country, like Rwanda, or back to their own home country, then, actually, the numbers of people making the journey in the first place will fall dramatically.”

She added, “I think it will be very clear by the time of the next election whether we have succeeded or not.”

The home secretary told Sky News that the government will begin expanding its detention capacity “very soon” to meet the need.

She rejected criticisms that the new bill may be inconsistent with the law, saying: “We’re not breaking the law and no government representative has said that we’re breaking the law.

“In fact, we’ve made it very clear that we believe we’re in compliance with all of our international obligations, for example the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, other conventions to which we are subject.”


Labour has described the government’s new asylum policy as a “con” that is no more likely to succeed than the Conservative government’s previous efforts.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the BBC on Wednesday the Tories are “being irresponsible” in their immigration policy.

The United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it is “profoundly concerned” by the bill and that, if passed, it will amount to an “asylum ban.”

Vicky Tennant, UNHCR representative to the UK, told BBC “Newsnight”: “We believe it’s a clear breach of the Refugee Convention. And remember, even people with very compelling claims will simply not have the opportunity to put these forward.”

But Downing Street has disputed the criticism from the UNHCR.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Obviously we disagree. We recognise these are new approaches but we think they meet our international obligations. We stand ready to defend them in court.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

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