As the race to be the next UK Prime Minister reaches the final two in Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, both have pledged to implement hardline UK immigration policies. Sunak in particular has sparked outrage with plans to cap the number of refugees the UK accepts and to introduce ‘floating detention centres’ for asylum seekers.
Meanwhile, Truss has said that she will expand the government’s controversial Rwanda plan. However, it’s Sunak that has come under fire amid plans to withhold aid from poor countries that refuse to cooperate on immigration should he win the race to become the next UK Prime Minister.
The former chancellor, who is currently trailing Truss in Conservative Party Member polls, said he too would increase the frequency of deportation flights to Rwanda, echoing comments made by Truss. However, Sunak said he would aim to establish similar schemes with other countries.
Furthermore, Sunak said that migrants arriving in the UK by small boats from across the Channel will be blocked from remaining in the country – even though the majority of those currently arriving in Britain are granted asylum status.
Truss also backed the Rwanda scheme, claiming it to be the ‘right’ policy and indicating that she would develop the scheme further.
She said: “I’m determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It’s the right thing to do.”
“I’m also determined to make sure that we have the right level of forces at our border. I’m going to increase the Border Force to make sure that we have the proper protection in place directly at the border,” Truss added.
Despite Truss and Sunak seemingly in agreement over the issue of UK immigration, the former chancellor’s plans have been branded ‘cruel’ by aid charity Oxfam. The charity’s head of government relations, Sam Nadel, said: “If anything, this shows that the heat of campaigning leads to bad policy.”
“If the former chancellor wins this race, he will be more than a party leader, he will be Prime Minister and a world leader. To meet a world in desperate crisis - facing climate change, famine and conflict - with cruel policies such as these would not live up to the role. We need more aid and safe and legal routes to the UK,” Nadel added.
Sunak, who acknowledges that he is the underdog to succeed the beleaguered Boris Johnson as UK Prime Minister, recently stated that illegal immigration to the UK was one of five ‘national emergencies’ that would put the UK on a ‘crisis footing’ as soon as he took office.
The former chancellor has reportedly developed a ’10-point plan to prevent illegal immigration’, which is significantly more hardline than measures featured in the Nationality and Borders Act brought into law by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, earlier this year.
However, Sunak’s plan would put him on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights by narrowing the definition of who qualifies for asylum in Britain – as well as giving immigration authorities additional powers to detain, tag and monitor those arriving in the UK.
His policy is also likely to lead to clashes with charity organisations by ‘explicitly linking humanitarian support with cooperation on UK immigration’ – something that Christian Aid described as ‘beyond the pale’.
Under current UK immigration laws, states that refuse to take back nationals that have committed offences or have been denied the right to remain in Britain – including citizens from Eritrea, Iraq and Sudan – would be denied access to British aid and would face retaliatory trade and visa measures.
Sunak, whose own grandparents arrived in Britain from India as legal immigrants, said he would introduce a limit – set annually by Parliament – on the number of refugees who can be accepted into the UK via ‘safe and legal routes’, while ensuring that those who have no right to be in the country are removed.
In a bid to block pathways into Britain through unauthorised routes, Sunak’s 10-point plan states: “The only route to asylum in the UK will be a safe and legal route.”
It’s understood that a military-led, Small Boats Taskforce, backed by investment in surveillance technology, would be given the resources and authority it needs to ‘end small boat beach landings’ and oversee the detention of those crossing the Channel in dinghies.
Meanwhile, adapted cruise ships would be used as floating detention camps for migrants deemed to have arrived illegally, under Sunak’s plans. The camps would be an attempt to slash the £5 million a day cost of housing illegal immigrants in hotels.
Urgent meeting with France
Sunak has also said that he would seek an urgent meeting with President of France, Emmanuel Macron, in an effort to ‘hold the French accountable’ by providing clear targets for stopping boats crossing the Channel and ‘no options’ off the table.
The former chancellor said he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to implement and scale up the controversial Rwanda plan, under the which the African nation is currently paid to accept asylum seekers without their claims ever being considered in the UK. Sunak wants to pursue similar plans with other nations.
Meanwhile, Sunak’s plans would see businesses using illegal migrant labour severely fined. He is also targeting the resolving of 80% of asylum claims within six months in order to cut the current backlog of more than 100,000 applications.
The Brexit-backing former chancellor said his proposals were ‘reasonable, fair and proportionate’ and would enable him to ‘fulfil the Leave campaign’s promise to take back control of Britain’s borders’.
Sunak said: “Right now the system is chaotic, with law-abiding citizens seeing boats full of illegal immigrants coming from the safe country of France, with our sailors and coastguards seemingly powerless to stop them. It must stop, and if I am Prime Minister I will stop it.”
Take a new direction
However, CEO of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, has urged Sunak and Truss to ‘take a new direction’ and scrap the Rwanda scheme in favour of safe routes and UK humanitarian visas.
He said: “Whoever becomes our next Prime Minister must replace our broken asylum system with a system that is fair, humane and orderly. This is an opportunity to commit to increasing safe routes, such as family reunion and humanitarian visas, so that those at risk of violence and persecution do not have to make dangerous journeys to find safety here.”
“We urge our next Prime Minister to take a new direction and abandon the cruel Rwanda scheme,” he added.
Meanwhile, head of campaigns and UK advocacy for Christian Aid, Pete Moorey, blasted the proposals.
He said: “At a time when conflict and the climate crisis are pushing more people into poverty in East Africa and many other parts of the world, any proposal that further shrinks our financial support is beyond the pale.”
“The UK has a historic and moral responsibility to ending extreme poverty. We should be leading the world in tackling the interlocking global crises of hunger, climate, and conflict. That is what leadership looks like,” Moorey added.
UK Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: “Rishi Sunak as chancellor of the Exchequer, and Liz Truss as foreign secretary, signed off the Rwanda deal – writing off £120m of taxpayers’ money on an unworkable scheme that the government has admitted is unenforceable with a very high risk of fraud.”
“They have been responsible for wasting taxpayers’ money, and have served in the cabinet that has totally failed to stop the criminal gangs or sort out the asylum system. The Conservatives have been in power for 12 years. It beggars belief that they claim to be the ones to sort things out when they have both failed for so long,” Cooper added.
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