The Government should scrap plans to turn back migrant boats at sea because they “endanger lives” and are likely to breach human rights laws, according to MPs and peers.
Pushbacks are “not the solution” to curbing Channel crossings and would “do the opposite of what is required to save lives”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights warned.
It described the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill as “littered” with measures which are “simply incompatible” with the UK’s international obligations.
However, the prime minister doubled down on the plan in the Commons, at today’s PMQs, as he claimed a vote on legislation next week is a test of Labour’s willingness to act on illegal immigration.
“It gives us the power to make the distinction, at last, between illegal and legal migrants to this country,” Johnson told Starmer.
“It gives Border Force the power to turn people back at sea and it gives us the power to screen people and send them for screening overseas, rather than in this country.”
The PM was challenged to go further by the Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who said: “We will not be able to stop the endless waves of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel until we break free from the constraints of the European Convention on Human Rights, which impedes our ability to tackle this tragic situation and protects even the most violent of criminals from being deported.
“It’s time to take back control and fulfil our manifesto commitment in 2015 to get rid of Labour’s Human Rights Act and bring in a British bill of rights.”
Committee chairman Harriet Harman said: “The Government is determined to prevent these crossings, but pushbacks are not the solution. They will not deter crossings, the seas will become even more dangerous and the people smugglers will continue to evade punishment.
“Current failures in the immigration and asylum system cannot be remedied by harsher penalties and more dangerous enforcement action.
“The Bill is littered with measures that are simply incompatible with human rights law and the UK’s obligations under international treaties.
“That is why we have called on the Government to amend the Bill by clearly setting out how any new measures can be carried out with respect to human rights law. Any measures that cannot meet these standards should be removed from the Bill completely.”
The legality and effectiveness of the tactic has been repeatedly called into question ever since it was first proposed, with campaigners threatening legal action against the Home Secretary.
But Priti Patel has insisted the plan has a “legal basis”, although the Home Office’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft previously conceded that only a “small proportion” of boats could be turned back.
The committee’s report said: “A policy of pushbacks would likely be incompatible with the UK’s obligations under international human rights law and maritime law.”
It added: “Pushbacks are known to endanger lives at sea. This is even more so when dealing with people on small, unseaworthy vessels, in a busy shipping lane, often with rough waters, without appropriate life-saving equipment, as is the case for migrants in small boats in the Channel.