The Illegal Migration Bill is a bad political gimmick

It would appear that she’s hoping that by calling it the Illegal Migration Bill it will be very hard for people to point out that it’s illegal. ‘The illegal Illegal Migration Bill’ is a real mouthful

Tom Peck
Tuesday 07 March 2023 19:55 GMT
Suella Braverman outlines new small boats bill

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Soft strings. A soft-wash backdrop in mottled grey. The home secretary clears her throat and begins to speak.

The lines between pastiche, homage and parody are always blurred. If you don’t speak English, you might think Suella Braverman’s 78-second-long promotional video was some kind of charity appeal on behalf of the victims of some appalling conflict somewhere.

She sounded almost like Benedict Cumberbatch, as she spoke in sombre tones about all the poor, unfortunate people who’ve been making unsafe journeys in rubber dinghies across the Channel. And, to her credit, she managed to maintain this kindly, gentle tone even as she eased her way into the main points of her new F*** Off Back to Where You Came From Bill.

“You will be detained,” she said, and only because she cares. “You will be sent back to your home country, or a safe third country, like Rwanda.”

We would love to give the Bugger Off Home Now Bill its proper name, but it is far too confusing. Braverman and Rishi Sunak have named it the Illegal Migration Bill. Its details have finally been published, and as Braverman got to her feet in the House of Commons to introduce and defend it, her team were simultaneously sending briefing notes out to all MPs, one of which breezily mentions that the Illegal Migration Bill is probably illegal but best not worry about that for now.

In this note, she explains that the provisions within the new bill aren’t definitely incompatible with existing international human rights agreements to which the UK is a key signatory. But, she continues, “there is a more than 50 per cent chance that they may be”.

Braverman, and indeed anyone who has shown even a passing interest in this subject, will know that it was international human rights law that prevented her first planeload of victims from taking off to Rwanda; and anyone who continues to show a passing interest can already tell that precisely the same thing will happen to the next one, should she try it again.

It would appear that she’s hoping that by calling it the Illegal Migration Bill it will be very hard for people to point out that it’s illegal. “The illegal Illegal Migration Bill” is a real mouthful.

There is virtually nobody who would argue that 45,000 people arriving per year in small boats on Kent beaches, and into the underbelly of a system that has neither the capacity nor the capability to deal with them, is not a significant political problem.

But it is a significant political problem that requires a significant solution – not to mention a significant politician – and it could hardly be clearer to see that Braverman and her illegal Illegal Migration Bill are not those things.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper spent five short minutes eviscerating every aspect of the bill. Cooper has made a very great number of political adversaries look very stupid indeed. It’s hard to tell if that’s quite what happened here. If you’ve pre-announced the probable illegality of your own new laws, you hardly require anyone’s assistance in being made to look ridiculous (even if Cooper did generously provide it).

Of the many laughable aspects, the most absurd is almost certainly the new diktat that all illegal arrivals will be deported in a maximum of 28 days – that’s the maximum amount of time an illegal arrival can spend in the system.

Cooper pointed out that there will inevitably be huge numbers of claims that are not processed within that time, and that the government has not given any thought to what might happen to the thousands of people who will be physically removed from the asylum “system” – ie the hotels and detention centres – without having been removed from the actual country. Where will they go? What will they do? How will they be found again? The government has got no idea.

Labour’s Diane Abbott rose to tell Braverman that no, she wouldn’t be voting for a bill that would have led to the deportation of her own parents. While she was shadow home secretary, Abbott did not always display the sharpest command of numeracy skills, so it was as fitting as it was revealing that it also fell to her to gently remind Braverman that, as she stood there threatening to deport 45,000 people a year to Rwanda, the Rwandan government had so far agreed to take no more than 200 (despite having already been paid £120m up front for its trouble, with more in the pipeline).

Braverman is not actually as stupid as she makes out (it would be almost impossible for anyone to be). She knows the Illegal Migration Bill is a political gimmick, which exists to deal with the government’s image problem, not its small-boats problem.

Its purpose is not to stop the boats – a thing that, without far more widescale international cooperation than the government currently appears capable of invoking, cannot be done. It is to allow her to stare down the barrel of a camera and hope she can convince enough of the voters not to trust Labour; that the Conservatives are still the tough guys.

She’s right, in one regard: it is a significant electoral issue. The British people have always had a good eye for a scam. They’ve very clearly worked out that they’re being governed by one.

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