Rishi Sunak’s planned reforms to the UK asylum system, created to combat a surge in Channel crossings, came under fire from the Council of Europe (CoE) as violating human rights accords already signed by Britain.
Europe’s leading human rights body, which is separate from the EU, described the proposed British legislation as backtracking on prior commitments made under the Anti-trafficking Convention, adopted by the UK in 2005.
The landmark piece of legislation, dubbed the ‘Illegal Migration Bill,’ would assist authorities in the detention and deportation of those who entered the UK illegally. London is scrambling to deal with a spike in illegal Channel crossings, with over 45,000 having made the perilous journey from France to England by boat in 2022.
An expert panel within the Council of Europe ruled that the proposed British bill would breach promises to identify and protect potential victims of human trafficking. The CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović addressed the UK House of Commons in an open letter, describing how the bill removed the core human rights of asylum seekers.
The bill enters the committee stage in the House of Commons next week and is expected to come under attack from pro-migration MPs and human rights NGOs. The legislation will also be a flashpoint for Britain’s future relationship with the European Court of Human Rights which may attempt to rule the bill illegal.
The Council of Europe, of which Britain remains a member despite Brexit, has received repeated criticism over the years as being largely superfluous and interfering in nations’ domestic affairs.
The Council published a report earlier this week lashing out against Europe-wide plans to clamp down on border security, calling for independent monitoring to prevent abuses.
While Britain is not part of EU institutions, the criticism by the CoE will rightly be seen by many Brexiters as yet another attempt to undermine the UK’s sovereignty post-Brexit. Tensions still linger between London and Brussels despite last month’s Windsor Agreement to settle the question of the Northern Ireland sea border, as the potential exists for European institutions to weaponise the issue of asylum in Britain.