Rishi Sunak is looking to ban people arriving in the UK via small boats from appealing against deportation.
Under proposals reportedly drawn up by his home secretary, Suella Braverman, all people who arrive in Britain without permission could face a ban from claiming asylum.
The prime minister has made stopping small boats one of his five key pledges in office, and recently declared his intention to “make sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.
A new immigration bill is expected within weeks, and it is expected to seek to permanently ban those who arrive illegally – which under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 now applies to anyone without a visa or special permission – from the asylum system.
The United Nations has warned that such plans would violate international law, and Home Office lawyers are said to be concerned that many of those targeted would merely challenge their exclusion from the asylum system with a judicial review, further clogging up the courts.
As a result, Ms Braverman has reportedly drawn up two options to avoid this – proposals which critics immediately warned would “put the government beyond the reach of the law” and, as such, potentially set up a “difficult clash” with the judiciary.
According to The Times, the first would seek to remove illegal arrivals’ right to appeal against their automatic exclusion from the asylum system, by creating a so-called “ouster clause” – mechanisms which keep certain matters out of the courts, and are typically regarded with hostility by judges.
The second would only allow people to lodge an appeal after they have been deported, regardless of whether or not they come from somewhere on the Home Office’s “safe countries” list.
A separate proposal would bar those arriving illegally from using parts of the Human Rights Act – which justice secretary Dominic Raab is controversially hoping to override – to avoid deportation, such as claiming a breach to their right to family life or liberty.
A former Tory minister told the paper that Ms Braverman and Mr Sunak have “got to be so careful”, warning the proposals risk “setting up a difficult clash if you don’t get it absolutely right”.
They said: “No 10 is assuring Tory MPs that they’re not going to be breaching international obligations but this will create difficulty and they will start hitting problems from day one. They’ll have the mother of all rows about it and ultimately how the courts interpret the legislation is another matter.”
Former Labour lord chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said he expected the courts would slap down the plans, which would “put the government beyond the reach of the law”, and described the second proposal to only allow appeals post-deportation “pure political window dressing”.
The Refugee Council’s Tasmin Baxter condemned the alleged plans as “wrong, unworkable and costly” and warned they would “shatter the UK’s long-standing commitment to support refugees”.
“Currently, the only way for most refugees to ask for our help is to get into a flimsy dinghy to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane,” Ms Baxter told Sky News. “We need to stop that but the way to do so is by replacing the chaos of the government’s proposals with a plan which is fair, orderly, compassionate and humane.”
The Home Office said it would not comment on leaked information about policy discussions, but said in a statement: “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.
“Our priority is to stop this and prevent these illegal crossings, and our new Small Boats Operational Command – bolstered by hundreds of extra staff – is working hard to disrupt the business model of people smugglers.
“We are also going further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed either to their home country or a safe third country.”