Jenrick hints at withdrawal from human rights treaty over small boat crossings

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said the Government will do ‘whatever is required’ to tackle migrant numbers.

David Hughes
Wednesday 09 August 2023 14:42 BST
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has said the UK will do whatever is required to tackle the small boats problem (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has said the UK will do whatever is required to tackle the small boats problem (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The UK could leave a major international human rights agreement to help tackle the problem of small boats crossing the English Channel, the immigration minister has said.

Robert Jenrick said the Government will do “whatever is required”, even if that means pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Government has insisted it can deliver on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” within the convention.

But with the plan to send migrants to Rwanda still facing a Supreme Court battle, there is pressure within the Conservative Party to pull out of the ECHR to make it easier to address the situation.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously expressed her personal view that the UK should leave the convention, which is ruled on by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The ECHR is a Council of Europe convention, rather than a European Union one, so the UK’s adherence to it was not affected by Brexit.

But pulling out of the convention would put the UK at odds with the majority of European nations and could also cause complications over the operation of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and post-Brexit deals with the EU.

On Times Radio, Mr Jenrick would not rule out withdrawal from the convention, saying the Government will do “whatever is necessary”.

“You can see from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and myself, our total commitment to this challenge,” he said.

“That’s why we’re working on every possible front. That’s why we have produced the most comprehensive plan, I believe, of any European country to tackle this issue.

“And we’ll do whatever is necessary ultimately to defend our borders and to bring order to our asylum system.”

Pressed directly on whether that could include leaving the ECHR, he said: “We will do whatever is required, take whatever necessary action is needed.”

Law Society of England and Wales president Lubna Shuja said: “Leaving the ECHR would mean the UK would sit as an outlier in Europe, alongside only Russia and Belarus who are already outside of the Convention.

“This would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, when the Government already has a perfectly good nutcracker it can use.”

She said if the Government wants to address problems in the asylum system it could work to bring down the case backlog and address issues with the Illegal Migration Act rather than “leaving an extremely successful international agreement designed to protect individual rights and support political stability”.

Mr Jenrick also warned asylum seekers in the UK that they cannot expect an “a la carte” selection of accommodation options after some launched challenges to avoid being placed on board the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The way that the asylum support system operates is that if someone claims to be destitute – i.e. they have no way of supporting themselves – there’s a legal obligation on the Government to step in and provide them with accommodation and meet their basic needs, but we do that by and large on a no-choice basis, not an a la carte menu where you can choose which hotel you want or which location.

“And so, if you decline the accommodation that’s provided, such as the barge, then we will consider removing your asylum support, and that individual would then ultimately have to fend for themselves.”

He added: “We’re not making anybody destitute. They would be choosing to do so because they wouldn’t accept the perfectly decent accommodation.”

The minister refused to say how much taxpayers’ money is being handed to Turkey as part of a deal to improve co-operation to crack down on irregular migration.

The deal will focus on action to dismantle people-smuggling gangs, with the establishment of a new operational “centre of excellence” by the Turkish National Police.

Supported by the UK, the centre is to focus on addressing organised immigration crime by enhancing the alignment of intelligence between the two nations.

A new memorandum of understanding will also facilitate the swifter exchange of customs data, information and intelligence between UK and Turkish authorities, bolstering the collaborative efforts to disrupt the supply chain of materials employed in illegal migration.

Mr Jenrick said: “We are giving some funding to Turkey. You would expect that because we are going to be working closely with them.

“But it is not primarily about money. This is mainly about the share of intelligence and information between our world-leading police and security services and their law enforcement authorities, so that, if we find out something important, that can be acted upon quickly, and vice versa.”

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in