The Government will release data today on ‘irregular’ migration into the UK, including small boats. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s policy for Navy ships to intercept refugees crossing the English Channel cannot be used, a minister admitted last week. The policy would criminalise anyone making the journey in small boats – instead of just those landing on the UK coast. In January, Ms Patel said pushing back migrant boats to France “absolutely” remains Government policy
She added: “Border Force were commissioned to do this, and the [Ministry of Defence] through the hybrid ways of working, which I have commissioned across Government, they will be doing exactly that.
“Routes have been tested, technology is being used but also the way in which boats can be pushed back has also been well tested with the basis to do that, and that is our policy.”
James Heappey, the armed forces minister, has admitted Navy vessels are unsuitable for the task and therefore cannot be used.
He said: “We’ll need additional platforms that are appropriate to the task, because you need a very low outboard height in order to be able to safely bring people from a dinghy into your vessel.”
In addition, he said the Government will need “a number of smaller vessels to shadow dinghies to the shore”, those which are so flimsy it would be “too dangerous” to make arrests at sea.
Reports in recent months have indicated that Ms Patel wants to implement a pushback policy when it comes to small boats crossing the Channel.
But Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, tells Express.co.uk that the push back policy could expose the Government to legal challenges.
This is because pushing back small boats is illegal under international law in the vast majority of circumstances.
He said: “There’s certain conditions that will be needed to ensure that it is legal to push back boats. There would need to be extremely calm waters, there would need to be a risk assessment to ensure no one’s life is at risk.
“We have already heard that the top official in the Home Office, who was speaking to MPs in Parliament a few months ago – he said it will only be possible to ensure those conditions in about one percent of all cases.
“Given that, it would make very little difference.
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“It would also be in breach of maritime law, it would be putting people’s lives at risk in a way that would expose the Government to being challenged in the courts.”
The Royal Navy also warned recently that the push back policy for dealing with refugee boats will not be put into action.
The Home Secretary had told the Home Affairs Committee that Mr Heappey, the armed forces minister, was “wrong to say anything specific in regards to work operationally [because] they’re still being planned, that work is not completed yet”.
Responding to Ms Patel’s comments, the Ministry of Defence press office Twitter account wrote: “The @RoyalNavy and the @RoyalMarines will not be using push back tactics in the English Channel, although a military commander will retain the existing ability to instruct Border Force to use them when appropriate.
“A further update will follow in due course.”
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Mr Solomon added: “Bringing the military in wouldn’t make much of a difference, it’s not going to stop people coming.
“It’s also an excessive response, we should be using the military for the purposes that it was designed for – fighting wars and to keep the country safe.
“I don’t think using them to patrol the Channel would make a difference, we already have Border Force, and from what I can tell the military would just do what Border Force are doing.
“It’s an attempt from the Government to sound tough without making a difference. Desperate people will take desperate measures.”
Ms Patel is also reported to have considered plans to send UK asylum seekers to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda for “offshore processing”.