The home secretary has announced that migrants seeking to cross the English Channel on small boats, and the people-smugglers enabling them, are to face more severe prison sentence in a bid to deter illegal crossings.
The move is part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, and is intended to fix the UK’s “broken asylum system” Priti Patel said.
The proposed legislation, which will receive its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission. Doing so, if the proposed legislation is approved, will carry a maximum prison sentence of four years, up from six months.
Those found guilty of smuggling people across the Channel will also face stricter punishment – life in prison – up from a maximum of 14 years.
A clause within the proposed legislation seeks to broaden the offence of arriving unlawfully so that it includes arrival as well as entry into the UK, which will allow those who are intercepted in UK territorial waters to be prosecuted.
Ms Patel said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill contains vital measures to fix the UK’s broken asylum system.
“Our new plan for immigration is fair but firm.
“We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it.”
In announcing the bill, the Home Office said that it was “very likely that those travelling to the UK via small boat will have come from a safe European Union country in which they could have claimed asylum”.
“Where this is the case, they are not seeking refuge at the earliest opportunity or showing good reason for seeking to enter the UK illegally but are instead ‘asylum shopping’ by picking the UK as a preferred destination over others and using an illegal route to get here,” the department claimed.
Labour has already said that they will oppose the bill, with shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds calling it “unconscionable”.
In response to the home secretary’s announcement, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said: “While the Home Office continues to make no safe and legal routes to the UK available for those claiming asylum, some people will continue to be forced to risk their lives to do so – including in small boats across the Channel.
“Instead of peddling deliberately misleading myths and untruths about asylum and migration, the Home Office should be establishing safe routes for those few people escaping persecution who wish to seek asylum here.”
Last year, 8,417 people made the journey across the English Channel in small boats. This year, already nearly 6,000 people have reached the UK in record numbers, with more than 2,000 crossing in June alone.
Analysis by PA news agency suggests that last year’s figure could be eclipsed within two months if crossings in July and August are comparable to last summer.