Artillery Row

How to stop the boat people

The Government can do nothing without removing Labour’s Human Rights Act

If there is an issue on which MPs are most out of touch with their electors, it is immigration. Never far from the surface of voters’ concerns, the sign of boats landing on the South Coast (and a number of tragic deaths) has again made this one of the most politically salient issues filling MPs post bags. Voter’s anger is driven by a sense that Parliament has never shown any real desire to grapple with this particular nettle. They would be right.

In Australia the policy was overwhelmingly popular and gained cross-party support

However, next week MPs will discuss the final stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill, a Government piece of legislation that actually does include new powers that could significantly reduce or even end illegal boat crossings. The problem is that as currently worded it is doomed to fail. All its new and potent powers will be subject to Labour’s Human Rights Act, retained EU legislation, the European Convention on Human rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Taken together our judicial system will envelop the Bill in a blizzard of court cases rendering it worthless.

That is a shame as the Bill includes one particular power that could end the Channel boats and thus save lives. I can say this with some certainty as it has worked in Australia, where the number of migrants arriving by illegal boats has reduced from over twenty thousand to close to zero.

There are only four ways to end illegal migration. 

  • FIrst, some argue we should use our aid budget to make the whole world as rich and safe as the UK, ending the push factor. I won’t explain the problems with this idea.
  • Second, you can stop migrants in the middle of the Channel. While potentially this could have an impact, it’s not ideal, it would take manpower and could lead to ugly scenes played out in front of TV cameras in a busy shipping lane.
  • Third, you could end illegal migration by legalising it! Safe routes across the Channel. It would also end the UK’s border and any immigration policies we may choose to have. Germany tried it in 2015 and millions set off on foot to get there. Given that anyone from Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and numerous other areas can claim asylum, a safe corridor could potentially be catastrophic.
  • Lastly, the solution that worked in Australia. You end the magnetic pull that draws migrants into the boats — the near certainty of permanent settlement and work in the UK. Remove that certainty and you remove the reason to cross the channel.

Below shows the numbers arriving in Australia. From 2001- 2007 they instituted the “Pacific Solution” of processing illegal migrants offshore. The numbers exploded when this policy was ended but crashed for a second time when it was restarted in 2013 under “Operation Sovereign Borders”.

The Bill in Clause 28 and Schedule 3 includes a power that could lead to the UK processing migrants from Channel boats in a third safe state. Removing the allure of permanent settlement while safeguarding genuine asylum seekers. You may be entitled to asylum, but not necessarily to asylum in a rich country.

However, Parliament often does not get the final say on immigration and asylum due to the overlapping mesh of legal constraints that have grown up overtime through judicial activism. Foremost among these are the Human Rights Act and European Convention. 

The Human Rights Act, introduced by Tony Blair, is unlike most other Acts of Parliament in that it is immune from “implied repeal”. If this current Bill conflicts with it rather than follow the most recent Act the Judges are instructed to “interpret” it in line with the HRA — a judicial gutting exercise via a thousand applications for judicial review. I can predict now that our Judges will bend over backwards to ensure that nobody who arrived in the UK on a boat is sent off to be processed abroad.

If no action is taken in a worst-case scenario, the Channel boat crossings will increase dramatically with the Government looking and being powerless to act.

The Human Rights Act will scupper this legislation unless something is done

Sensing the political damage this would cause, a number of Conservative MPs, including Sir William Cash MP, have tabled an amendment (150) to the bill to exclude the Human Rights Act & Convention. If accepted by the Government the powers in the Bill to set up a successful Australian system “will have effect notwithstanding” the HRA. The Bill’s intention would be protected from the undergrowth of Immigration and Human Rights lawyers.

Immigration is the Government’s Achilles’ heel. Brexit was in part due to a desire to “take back control of the border” which the Conservative Manifesto promised. In 2015 the Conservative Party also published a document promising to replace the Human Rights Act.

If the Government gets this right and ends the Channel boat problems it will give it a huge boost in the run up to the 2023 election. In Australia the policy was overwhelmingly popular and gained cross-party support. If the UK succeeds it may even get cross-Channel support and imitation.

However, if the Government listens to the siren songs of the lawyers and immigration industry, the current problem will remain and has the potential to get dramatically worse in the run up to an election and a Government elected to take back control will be shown to be all at sea with disastrous political consequences.

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