'Morally unacceptable': The day Sunak's Illegal Migration Bill came under fire
Rishi Sunak is having his premiership put to the test as the House of Lords discusses the government's controversial Illegal Migration Bill – with the Archbishop of Canterbury already scathing of the proposed law.
Sunak has made "stopping small boat crossings" one of his five priority pledges, and the bill forms a key part of this promise.
In March, he told the Sunday Express he would "stop the boats once and for all", adding: "I'm determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats. So make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay."
The bill was passed by MPs in parliament in April, but is facing significant opposition in the House of Lords. Yahoo News UK examines the challenges facing the PM.
Can the government ignore the European Court of Human Rights? (The Conversation, 5 mins, March 2023)
What is the Illegal Migration Bill?
If passed into law, it would mean those who come to the UK in a way deemed illegal by the government – for example, in small boats – would not be able to stay. Instead, they would be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.
The home secretary would be under a legal duty to make arrangements for the removal of illegal entrants falling within the scheme.
People who enter the UK illegally would not have their asylum claim determined in the UK, and they would not be able to remain.
They would either be returned to their home country, or deported to a country such as Rwanda with whom the British government has made a deal. Once removed, they would not be allowed to come back to the UK again.
Illegal Migration Bill factsheet (Gov.uk, 6 min)
Home secretary Suella Braverman has described the bill as "the will of the British people" and, ahead of today's debate, she urged peers not to oppose it – however, almost 90 peers registered an interest to speak.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was the most significant among them. He has previously labelled the plan to send migrants to Rwanda as "the opposite of the nature of God".
In a scathing attack on Wednesday, Welby said: “We need a bill to reform migration. We need a bill to stop the boats. We need a bill to destroy the evil tribe of traffickers. The tragedy is that without much change this is not that bill."
He added it was “morally unacceptable” to leave the poorest countries to deal with the migration crisis.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick has also put forward a rare "motion to decline" to block the bill from proceeding any further in the House of Lords because he says it fails to meet the UK's commitments under international law – although with Labour not expected to support it, the motion is unlikely to be carried.
Archbishop of Canterbury attacks ‘morally unacceptable’ small boats bill (The Independent, 3 mins)
The problems facing Sunak
It's not just the House of Lords raising opposition. Groups including Save the Children and Human Rights Watch have called for the controversial legislation to be dropped.
"The bill is effectively a ban on asylum," a statement from the groups said, adding it will put "people seeking safety and a better life at risk of irreversible harm, with life and death consequences".
The groups also claim that the bill will "almost certainly breach multiple international conventions and agreements, including the UN Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT)".
The government has also faced strong criticism from senior Tories, including former PM Theresa May and former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, over the potential impact of the bill on victims of modern slavery.
Why Britain's 'Illegal Migration Bill' is so controversial (Yahoo News UK, 4 min)
What do the numbers tell us?
The number of people arriving in the UK via small boats has increased in recent years, from the low hundreds before 2020 to 45,755 people in 2022, according to Institute for Government official figures.
More than 130 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Channel since 2019, and of those who arrived safely, around 90% have claimed asylum.
But another key metric Sunak will doubtless be looking at is how much support his plan has.
According to a survey conducted in YouGov in March, 42% of Brits said they supported the government’s approach, with 39% opposing it.
That's a wafer thin majority and, following a disastrous local elections result, Sunak must quickly demonstrate he can get to grips with the issue.
The Illegal Migration Bill: seven questions for the government to answer (Institute for Government, 9 min)