The move came after the deaths of 27 people trying to cross the Channel last week. Concerns have been raised that the RNLI could be criminalised under new laws which would make it a criminal offence to facilitate the entry of asylum seekers to the UK.
However, Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove said the Government would amend the Home Secretary’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill next week to make clear the RNLI and Coastguard would not be prosecuted under the new laws.
Parliament’s Joint Committee has questioned the remarks made by Mr Pursglove on Human Rights with Labour MP Florence Eshalomi warning the Bill “would criminalise organisations such as the RNLI for carrying out those lifesaving activities.”
He said the Government wanted to “put this matter beyond doubt” and so has introduced an amendment at report stage “that deals directly with this issue” around the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) “and the Coastguard and the RNLI and it puts this matter beyond doubt”.
He said: “There would not be prosecutions in the event that SOLAS operations are carried out by those individuals.”
Mr Pursglove said he feels a “huge weight of responsibility” after the deaths in the Channel, which ministers and officials say happened in French waters.
Asked by the committee if the Government feels “any sense of responsibility” for the deaths, the minister replied: “I feel a huge weight of responsibility as the minister for tackling illegal migration.
“And I think that all of us in this House feel an enormous weight of responsibility on this issue.
“And I feel that there is a profound duty to put these evil criminal gangs – that are responsible for this human misery, that treat individuals as cargo and are only interested in making a profit – out of business once and for all and to render this route unviable.
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“All of the work that I’m doing is aimed in that direction and is working towards that outcome.
“I think what we saw last week is a dreadful tragedy. It is unthinkable.
“The thought that women and children and men lost their lives in this way is horrendous. And for me that only stiffens my resolve to work as hard as I possibly can to play my part, to render the route unviable with the ultimate objective in my mind of preserving life.”
Last week, an RNLI lifeboat based in Hastings, Sussex, was blocked by a boat filled with protesters who objected to migrants being rescued in the Channel.
One witness claimed the protesters shouted: “‘Don’t bring any more of those home, we’re full up, that’s why we stopped our donations’ – and that kind of really horrible stuff.”