The UK is not pursuing a deal with France this week to deport asylum seekers back across the Channel despite warnings that Rishi Sunak’s hardline plan to crackdown on crossings will not work without returns agreements.
i understands the Prime Minister is instead focusing on getting an agreement with French President Emmanuel Macron to step up beach patrols to stop asylum seekers launching dinghies on the Channel, with the pair due to hold a summit in Paris on Friday.
The meeting will come after Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Tuesday announce laws to make asylum claims from those who travel to the UK in small boats inadmissible, with all of them to be deported to a safe country and banned from returning.
However, a Border Force union chief and a former Home Office permanent secretary warned that the laws will not succeed without more returns agreements.
Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Service Union (ISU) said the plans were “confusing” as there was a lack of countries willing to take deportees when more than 45,000 people arrived across the Channel last year.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can’t move anyone to Rwanda right now – it’s subject to legal challenge.
“We can’t remove anyone back into Europe because there are no returns agreements and we lost access to the database that allows us to prove that individuals have claimed asylum in Europe – Eurodac – when we left with Brexit.
“So, unless we have a safe third country that isn’t Rwanda to send people to, this just doesn’t seem to be possible.”
Sir David Normington, former Home Office permanent secretary, echoed her concerns and said there was also a lack of accommodation to detain people before their deportation.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Where’s [the Government] going to deport them to? Because it doesn’t have agreements with enough countries that are safe.”
Ms Moreton also warned that the threat of a crackdown could lead to an increase in the number of people risking the crossing.
The gangs will tell people “quick, cross now before anything changes”, she said.
Downing Street said it was aware of “that sort of issue”, but that rising numbers of crossings meant “there is no time to waste” on implementing the plans.
Responding to wider criticism, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “For our part, the Prime Minister has made a commitment to the British public to stop the boats, which are putting lives at risk and lining the pockets of ruthless criminal gangs.
“We’ve seen too many lives lost attempting this dangerous and unnecessary journey, and the number of people entering the country is simply unsustainable.
“We have an unacceptable situation depriving people who genuinely need our help and that is simply not fair. So we have to take away the incentive to jump the queue by coming here illegally and stop the boats.”
The Government will eventually open more safe and legal routes for asylum claims, but only “once we have control over our borders”, the spokesman said.
MPs are likely to get a vote on how many asylum seekers should arrive in the UK via safe routes.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the new laws were a political tactic ahead of May’s local elections and questioned its legality.
“We had a plan last year which was put up in lights, ‘it’s going to be an election winner’. These bits of legislation always seem to come when we’ve got a local election coming up,” he told LBC Radio.
“It was going to break the gangs – it didn’t. Now we’ve got the next bit of legislation with almost the same billing, I don’t think that putting forward unworkable proposals is going to get us very far.”