Suella Braverman insists UK asylum plan lawful amid criticism

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LONDON — British government plans to prevent asylum seekers from trying to cross the English Channel won’t break domestic or international law, the home secretary argued Wednesday.

In a string of media appearances, Suella Braverman defended the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill, unveiled Tuesday, amid criticism from human rights campaigners and the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Faced with mounting numbers of people trying to make the dangerous crossing, the U.K. government is aiming to make it far easier to detain and deport those arriving in the country through irregular means. But the plans are likely to face a bumpy ride through parliament and the courts.

There has been particular focus on Braverman’s admission Tuesday that the bill may bump up against the European Convention on Human Rights. On the first page of the published law, Braverman said she was “unable to make a statement” that its bill’s provisions are “compatible with the Convention rights.”

Braverman told the BBC Wednesday that she included that statement “out of an abundance of caution,” but said that the government is still confident the bill is legal.

“We are confident that we are complying with the law, domestic and international,” she said. “But we are also pushing the boundaries and we are testing innovative and novel legal arguments.”

More than 45,700 people used “small boats” to cross the Channel to the U.K. last year, the highest figure since records began. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made “stopping the boats” one of his key priorities as he tries to turn around Tory fortunes.

To tackle this, ministers have already signed an agreement to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as a safe country, although none have so far been sent to the central African country amid legal challenge.

Bruised by that legal challenge, some Tory MPs are pushing for the U.K. to quit the ECHR altogether.

The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) said Tuesday night that the U.K.’s bill would amount to an asylum ban” by “extinguishing the right to seek refuge protection” for those who arrive irregularly, “no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be.”

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