The Independent

Home Office staff condemn Braverman’s crossings plan


Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak are on a collision course with civil servants over their controvers­ial small-boats plan. Proposals to turn back all arrivals have provoked a huge row, with the government saying something must be done to stop migrants, while the UN’s refugee agency condemned the idea as illegal.

Staff within the Home Office told The Independen­t that the home secretary’s plans are mere “empty threats” and will not work, while former Tory ministers called for more safe and legal routes to be establishe­d for asylum seekers. Ms Braverman was condemned for a statement sent in her name to Conservati­ve Party members, which claimed that officials implementi­ng her policies were part of an “activist blob” that had blocked previous attempts to stop the crossings.

French president Emmanuel Macron is expected to tell Mr Sunak at a meeting in Paris tomorrow that Britain will have to make annual payments if it wants France to tackle the crisis by stepping up patrols in Calais. Yesterday, Ms Braverman defended the Illegal Migration Bill as “necessary, proportion­ate and humanitari­an”, saying that up to 80,000 people could cross the English Channel this year.

The number of people arriving on small boats to the UK rose by 60 per cent between 2021 and 2022, to 46,000. The government has tried twice in the past four years to solve the problem, while thousands of arrivals are having to be accommodat­ed in hotels at huge expense. But there is widespread unrest inside the Home Office over Ms Braverman’s admission that her plans may violate human rights law, and the UN Refugee Agency’s warning that they amount to a “clear breach” of internatio­nal law.

Days after a new deal on post-Brexit arrangemen­ts seemed to reset relations, an EU Commission­er also warned the plans break internatio­nal law. Ylva Johansson says she told Politico: “I spoke to the British minister (Braverman) yesterday on this and I told her that I think that this is violating internatio­nal law.”

Practical questions are mounting as to how all small-boat migrants could be detained and deported, when there is insufficie­nt immigratio­n detention capacity and only two removal agreements are in place, with Rwanda and Albania. The Independen­t has seen internal communicat­ions from Home Office leaders telling civil servants that they should work to make the bill “a success” while admitting that details of how it will be implemente­d have not yet been “worked through”.

An all-staff meeting is being held next week to discuss the legislatio­n, which blindsided specialist­s who had not been consulted on the plans. Civil servants have already been piling into internal chats, with questions on how the proposals can be implemente­d and whether they break the law. Messages from a question-and-answer session, obtained by Sam Freedman, a former adviser to Michael Gove, and posted on Twitter, showed staff calling for their managers to “stand up” for civil servants and threatenin­g to quit.

“At what point are senior leadership in the Home Office willing to state that breaking internatio­nal law is not consistent with the civil service code or our values, and that we as staff should not be expected to do so?” one person wrote. Another commenter said: “I have never been so embarrasse­d and ashamed to work for this department I once loved. Time to move on!”

Several questioned how asylum can be legally denied to smallboat migrants, and asked what “safe and legal routes” the government is providing as an alternativ­e. “The home secretary seems to freeze and struggle whenever she’s asked this question,” an anonymous poster remarked.

A Home Office official told The Independen­t that the asylum system had not been overwhelme­d by small-boat crossings, as claimed by Ms Braverman, but “because of how it is run”, suggesting that it is suffering from “widespread incompeten­ce”.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said that according to internatio­nal law, asylum seekers cannot be forced to return to the country from which they have fled.

“Once you’ve saturated Rwanda, where do you send them?” they asked. “It all works for Albanians, but what about the rest? It’s empty threats.”

In a message to all Home Office staff after the bill was announced on Tuesday, permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and his deputy called it a “significan­t moment”. “Any new policy is only ever as good as its implementa­tion,” said an email seen by The Independen­t. “It will be extremely challengin­g work, but we are confident in the ability of our fantastic colleagues.”

A second communicat­ion, from senior officials Abi Tierney and Simon Ridley, said that “details of how the bill will be operationa­lised” had not yet been “worked through”. “We are confident you will deliver what is asked of us by ministers in a way that upholds the Home Office values,” it added.

The communicat­ions praised civil servants, thanked them for their work, and said that managers were “proud” of them – a markedly different tone from that seen in the message from the Conservati­ve Party to its members.

In a letter to Rishi Sunak, FDA general secretary Dave Penman demanded a formal apology for the email sent to Tory members,

which claimed that “an activist blob of left-wing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour Party [had] blocked” previous efforts to stop small-boat crossings. “This statement is a direct attack on the integrity and impartiali­ty of the thousands of civil servants who loyally serve the home secretary, doing some of the most complex and difficult work in government,” he added.

Mr Penman condemned the “cowardly attack” on staff who are unable to publicly defend themselves, warning that it risks further stoking tensions following a number of violent protests at hotels used to house asylum seekers. He suggested that the statement, in Ms Braverman’s name, could amount to a breach of the ministeria­l code, but a Conservati­ve Party spokespers­on later said: “This was a CCHQ email and the wording wasn’t seen by the home secretary. We are now reviewing our internal clearance processes.”

Ms Braverman and Mr Sunak are being urged to act on their vague pledge to look at new refugee schemes. Former minister Richard Harrington – who oversaw the Ukrainian sponsorshi­p scheme – said the government should create more “safe and legal” routes now.

“If they are preventing the crossing of small boats in the Channel, they should replace it with a properly organised system of legal routes for people in desperate situations,” Lord Harrington told The Independen­t. “This is a desperate need for people to move and take refuge, just like my own grandparen­ts did. We need to provide safe and legal channels. Then we’ve got the moral high ground. Then I’d support the government.”

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland told The Independen­t that he too wanted more safe and legal routes to be announced soon. He urged Mr Sunak to seek a returns agreement with France, although Paris has signalled that it will be requesting millions more in British government funding for coastal security at the summit tomorrow.

Mr Buckland, who said he was “carefully studying” the bill, said he hoped ministers would make sure any new plans for refugee schemes are “brought forward to coincide with the enactment of the bill”.

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents Border Force officers, condemned the plans and accused the government of “demonising refugees in order to deflect from their catastroph­ic failures to address the current cost of living crisis”. General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The UK is the sixth-richest economy on the planet, and can afford to take care of its own citizens and take its fair share of refugees.”

The union called for “safe passage” visas to reduce the demand for small-boat crossings, alongside investment in asylum procedures and changes to immigratio­n detention.

A Home Office spokespers­on said: “As a department we always encourage the free exchange of ideas, and want to thank all colleagues who have been involved in preparatio­ns for the introducti­on of the Illegal Migration Bill. Yesterday, the home

secretary also thanked the Home Office teams for all their work on the bill.

“While we appreciate there may be a range of views on government policy, all civil servants are bound by the civil service code and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivit­y and impartiali­ty – and it is key that this is upheld at all times.”

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 ?? (Getty) ?? The home secretary has been attacked for a statement that said civi l servants were part of an ‘activist b l ob’
(Getty) The home secretary has been attacked for a statement that said civi l servants were part of an ‘activist b l ob’
 ?? (Getty) ?? Suella Braverman is under pressure from both Labour and the Tories over her sma ll- boats bi ll
(Getty) Suella Braverman is under pressure from both Labour and the Tories over her sma ll- boats bi ll
 ?? (Data: Home Office) ?? The number of Channe l crossings has continued to rise in spite of past government interventi­ons
(Data: Home Office) The number of Channe l crossings has continued to rise in spite of past government interventi­ons
 ?? (WPA) ?? Rishi Sunak has been urged to offer more ‘safe and legal’ routes for refugees
(WPA) Rishi Sunak has been urged to offer more ‘safe and legal’ routes for refugees
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