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Compassion-Free Conservatism: ‘Suella Braverman Uses Vote Leave Playbook Against Vulnerable Refugees’

The new ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ is using the same dishonest tactics used to take Britain out of the EU to secure the Conservatives a fifth election victory, writes Adam Bienkov

Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy

Compassion-Free ConservatismSuella Braverman Uses Vote Leave Playbook Against Vulnerable Refugees

The new ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ is using the same dishonest tactics used to take Britain out of the EU to secure the Conservatives a fifth election victory, writes Adam Bienkov

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The Home Secretary today told MPs that her new ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ is designed to stop the UK from being overrun by tens of millions of additional arrivals.

“There are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws”, she said. “Let’s be clear. They are coming here.”

This is absurd and inflammatory rhetoric from Suella Braverman.

In reality, only a tiny proportion of the world’s refugees currently seek refuge in the UK. Official statistics suggest that the large majority of refugees stay within their own region, with other European countries accepting many more than the UK.

By way of comparison, just 45,000 people are estimated to have attempted the crossing over the Channel to the UK last year. At that rate, it would take a further two millennia for Braverman’s 100 million to turn up on Britain’s shores.

Yet, just like Vote Leave campaign’s infamous leaflets warning of 76 million Turks attempting to come to the UK if Britain remained in the EU, Braverman’s 100 million figure appears to have a darker political purpose.

And the nature of that purpose is already clear.

Last month, Rishi Sunak announced that he intends to put his pledge to “stop the boats” at the centre of the Conservative Party’s re-election campaign, while accusing Labour of being in favour of “open borders” into the UK.

Yet beyond the rhetoric, there was little in Braverman’s statement which suggests that the Government actually has any workable plans to tackle small boat crossings. Addressing MPs, she said that anyone seeking refuge in the UK, other than through one of a handful of Government-approved schemes, will in future be detained “until they can be removed” to another country.

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However, Braverman was unable to explain how this will actually be possible.

Under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, states are not allowed to discriminate against refugees on the basis of how they have arrived. It is also unclear how the plan can possibly comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, with the Home Secretary telling MPs that “some of the nation’s finest legal minds” were still working out the final legal details on this.

Indeed, as Braverman herself later acknowledged in a letter to Conservative MPs, the Government believes there is a “more than 50%” chance that the law will fail to comply with the convention.

That this legislation is based on shaky foundations was made clear in advance of its release, with the Daily Mail and other newspapers briefed that Braverman was planning to “stretch” existing human rights law in order to get her plan through.

Yet such legal “stretching” is likely to leave Sunak’s Government open to multiple legal challenges, which could take many months, or even years, to complete.

And even if the Government is eventually successful at overcoming these legal obstacles, there is also the question of how exactly the Home Office would then be able to successfully process and deport tens of thousands of refugees each year. Under the currently-stalled Rwanda scheme, there is only the capacity to deport just a few hundred people each year and the Government has, as yet, given no indication of where the tens of thousands of additional places are to be found.

Without those additional places, anyone seeking refuge in the UK would be left in a state of seemingly indefinite detention.

For these reasons, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that far from being designed to “stop the boats”, this new bill is actually designed to be stopped in its tracks, at which point public anger at small boat crossings will be diverted towards those parties and individuals who the Government accuses of doing the stopping.

That this may be the Government’s real intention was clear from Braverman’s statement today, in which she accused opposition parties and anyone else opposing her plans of seeking to “betray” the will of the British people.

“Labour and others who oppose these measures are betraying hard-working Brits”, Braverman told the Daily Express.

Such rhetoric has dangerous precedents and the Home Secretary, who has previously referred to refugees arriving in the UK as an “invasion”, was today repeatedly urged to tone down her language to prevent refugees, and those seeking to protect them, from being targeted.

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Such threats are not imaginary. In recent months, there have been multiple attacks and violent protests against asylum centres and hotels housing refugees in the UK. Far from seeking to reduce the spread of these incidents, the Home Secretary and her allies have sought to partially justify them, with Conservative Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson saying he has “sympathy” for those joining the protests.

While such rhetoric is dangerous, it is also deeply cynical. When you contrast Braverman’s comments today with the actual substance of this bill, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that her actual plan is to merely play on existing fears of migrants crossing on small boats, gain a large amount of publicity for attempting to clamp down on the problem, before blaming the Government’s opponents for ‘blocking’ what in reality ministers always realised was an unworkable and unlawful plan.

This strategy has its ancestral origin in the successful Vote Leave campaign. Back then, fears of a non-existent wave of Turkish migrants spreading across the EU were used to help propel Britain out of the bloc, before ultimately propelling Boris Johnson into Downing Street. The fact that since that referendum, immigration to the UK actually went up is neither here nor there. The campaign, and the lies upon which it was based, fulfilled their purpose.

It remains to be seen whether the Government’s new campaign to be seen as trying to “stop the boats” will be equally successful.

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