Campaigners have called on MPs to “stand on the right side of history” ahead of a crucial Commons vote on the Government’s sweeping asylum reforms.
Rishi Sunak said he was “throwing absolutely everything” at tackling Channel crossings and insisted his “stop the boats” plan was “working” as MPs prepared to vote on changes to the Illegal Migration Bill.
More than 60 victims of torture, together with refugees, asylum seekers and those already granted asylum in the UK – as well as around 30 campaign groups – wrote to members of the House of Commons to express their “horror” at the Bill and urge them to oppose the proposed legislation.
The letter, sent on Tuesday, said: “It’s time for this Government to once and for all scrap their inhumane approach to refugees and rebuild the asylum system on foundations of compassion and human dignity …
“Finding safety in the UK is an incredible opportunity to rebuild your life. We urge you to not take away this lifeline from the refugees that follow in our footsteps.
“It is now time for you to stand on the right side of history and oppose this shameful piece of legislation when it returns to the House of Commons.”
MPs are expected to cast a series of votes from 5pm on changes backed by the House of Lords after the draft legislation was mauled in the upper chamber, suffering 20 defeats as peers demanded a raft of revisions.
The Home Office offered several concessions on Monday evening, including on time limits for the detention of children and pregnant women as well as removing a clause so the law, if enacted, would no longer apply retrospectively from when it was first announced in March.
“Like being in a burning house and finding an escape window”
The letter’s signatories, which include charities Freedom from Torture, Care4Calais and Refugee Action alongside individuals, said: “These cruel plans won’t stop people taking dangerous journeys to find safety in the UK.
“Instead, this Bill closes the door on refugees, punishing people who had little other choice but to risk their life reaching the UK.
“We know this because when you are fleeing the danger of torture, persecution or war, there is absolutely nothing that can stop you. You are on autopilot. It’s like being in a burning house and finding an escape window. Nothing can deter a human being when they are fleeing for their life.”
As he travelled to a Nato summit in Lithuania, the Prime Minister acknowledged fulfilling his pledge to curb Channel crossings would not happen “overnight” but stressed he was “determined to do it”, adding: “I’m throwing absolutely everything at it and I won’t stop.”
Sunak’s Dover speech
Mr Sunak also defended a speech he made in Dover last month where he hailed an apparent reduction in migrants making the journey – just weeks before improved weather conditions saw a large number of arrivals.
He told reporters: “I also said in that speech very deliberately that crossings would increase over the summer. I wasn’t hiding that fact.
“I said then, ‘Here we are, making progress so far’. I fully expected crossings to rise in the summer. I said it at the time very clearly.
“But I do think the plan is working and starting to work.”
It comes as MPs heard the Home Office is paying for thousands of empty hotel beds reserved for migrants to avoid overcrowding at processing centres.
Home Office second permanent secretary Simon Ridley told the Commons Public Accounts Committee the Government department keeps a “buffer” of about 5,000 beds across the country in case of a sudden influx of Channel crossings in a bid to avoid more problems with overcrowding at the Manston processing centre in Kent.
He later added: “We have got excess beds that we are paying for that we can move people into immediately.”
MPs expressed surprise at the number set aside.