Europe

Priti Patel hit with legal action over plans to send migrant boats back to France

Priti Patel: EU states frustrated by 'lack of progress' on immigration

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The Freedom from Torture campaign group says the Government’s policy has no basis in law and would heighten the risk of drownings in the Channel in a claim it has lodged with the Administrative Court. It is understood that documents argue for a full judicial review of the Home Office’s plans after Ms Patel’s department allegedly “refused to provide a substantive response to the grounds of the legal challenge”, the Independent reports.

Sonya Sceats, Freedom from Torture’s chief exec, told the newspaper: “This cruel pushback policy is Boris Johnson’s latest attempt to rip up the rule book that keeps all of us safe.

“We should not need to launch a legal challenge to force this government to recognise the sanctity of life.

“We know from our work with torture survivors that people seeking safety usually have no choice but to travel without obtaining prior permission, whether it’s because they come from a country where they cannot apply for a passport or because the UK will not grant visas for people claiming asylum.”

Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day, told the Independent there was “no basis in domestic law” for pushbacks.

She said: “The policy places the UK in breach of its obligations under the Refugee Convention and Human Rights Act.

“In light of the risk to life arising from any use of the policy – and given that more than 25,000 people crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year – we have filed judicial review proceedings against the Home Secretary, which ask the court to declare the pushback policy unlawful.”

Care4Calais, Channel Rescue, and the PCS Union, representing Border Force staff, have announced action as well but not yet lodged claims in court.

Under the new laws, Border Force staff would be granted partial immunity from prosecution if migrants were to drown during pushbacks.

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PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told the Independent that the policy was “unlawful, unworkable and above all morally reprehensible”.

He continued: “Our Border Force members are aghast at the thought they will be forced to implement such a cruel and inhumane policy. If the Government does not abandon this appalling approach, we will pursue all legal avenues including a judicial review.”

Freedom from Torture alleges pushing boats back amounts to the government authorising unlawful conduct by Border Force officers and that the practice is in conflict with the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

It says existing enforcement powers, under the 1971 Immigration Act, do not allow boats to be forced out of British waters and that there is no basis for pushbacks in UK law.

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A House of Lords committee has already written to Ms Patel saying its members were not convinced the plans were safe or lawful.

In a letter published on Wednesday, they state: “We are not aware that the government [has] published any arguments to substantiate the claim that a legal basis currently exists.”

MPs voted against an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill on Tuesday which would have prevented the powers from being used in a manner or circumstances that could endanger life at sea.

Brought by Harriet Harman, who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the proposal was defeated by 313 votes to 235.

The committee demanded the proposals be scrapped or changed, but the bill passed through the Commons on Wednesday.

A Home Office spokesman said that as part of the Government’s ongoing operational response, and to prevent further loss of life at sea, it continues to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options to find ways of stopping small boats making the dangerous and unnecessary journey across the Channel.

He added: “These all comply and are delivered in accordance with both domestic and international law.”

Last month, 27 people tragically lost their lives during an attempted crossing.

More than 25,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK this year compared to 2020 when 8,469 made the perilous journey.

The record for the most migrants arriving in a single day was set in November when 1,185 people arrived on UK shores.

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