Border Force officers will be able to use “reasonable force” to tackle illegal migrants crossing the English Channel in inflatable boats, under Government plans outlined today.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is under mounting pressure over immigration as hundreds of migrants make the perilous voyage from Northern France to UK waters each month.
Ministers today published the Nationality and Borders Bill which they hope will deter people from clambering into unseaworthy vessels for the trip through the Dover Strait.
It says a “relevant officer may use reasonable force, if necessary” to stop, board or divert boats.
Most vessels which reach British waters are helped to UK ports, such as Dover, or passengers are transferred onto Border Force cutters for the rest of the journey.
The 87-page Bill aims to make it easier to deport people whose asylum claims are rejected – and harder for those who come on inflatable boats to win their applications.
Under the plans, the Government would be able to send migrants offshore while their applications processed.
But ministers have so far been unable to strike deals with any countries to accept refugees hoping to settle in the UK.
Negotiations with French authorities about taking back asylum seekers who have travelled from France continue.
The Government could also make it more difficult for foreign nationals from a particular country to get a UK visa if ministers believe the nation is being unhelpful in accepting their citizens whose applications for asylum in Britain have flopped.
“A country falls within this subsection if, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, the government of that country does not co-operate with the United Kingdom government in relation to the removal from the United Kingdom of nationals of that country who require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but do not have it,” says the document.
Officials will also be able to use dental records and x-rays to judge whether asylum applicants are children.
Critics say some arrivals to UK shores pretend to be youngsters when really they are adults, in the hope of more sympathetic treatment.
Campaigners claimed the legislation outlined today failed to offer genuine refugees safe and legal routes to Britain.
Home Office figures show that 8,500 people arrived in small boats across the Channel last year.
Numbers this year are already well ahead of the same period for 2020.
Three quarters of those who arrived in the UK using the route were aged between 18 and 39, and 87% were male.
Official statistics show there were 109,000 asylum claims in the system at the end of last year, with 52,000 awaiting an initial decision.
Nearly three quarters of applications had been in the system for more than a year, and 62% of claims were by people who had arrived illegally.