This summer has seen a storm of damaging headlines about the Home Office’s handling of illegal migration, from legionella on board the Bibby Stockholm to the ever-growing number of migrant boats crossing the Channel – but today is the first time we’ve heard from the woman in charge, Suella Braverman.
Despite the prime minister’s pledge to “stop the boats” looking increasingly detached from reality, the home secretary told Sky’s Jayne Secker this morning that it wasn’t a mistake to make such a bold promise, but “what the British people expect of us” and “what I passionately believe is the right thing to do.”
In response to the catalogue of problems facing her department, openly described by a number of Tory backbenchers as once again “unfit for purpose” – Ms Braverman repeatedly trumpeted the government’s success in passing the Illegal Migration Act in the days before recess.
The new legislation, as part of the PM’s pledge on the issue, gives her the legal duty to detain and deport migrants who arrive in the country illegally.
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But the practical issues around its implementation haven’t gone away.
The Home Office is clearly struggling to secure the accommodation needed to detain migrants while they await deportation.
The country currently has 2,500 such places – and while there are plans to repurpose disused RAF bases in different parts of the country to substantially increase those numbers, it seems those facilities are unlikely to be ready at scale any time soon.
Ms Braverman conceded this morning that “we will need to increase some of the detention capacity” but insisted the plan will be to get people flowing through the system rather than needing to provide 40,000 additional detention places.
This pressure on the logistics around detaining migrants has clearly led the Home Office to brainstorm other alternatives – including, it’s reported this morning, the idea of electronically tagging people instead of having to provide secure accommodation.
The home secretary didn’t deny these reports this morning, explaining that her department is “considering all options”. This idea is also likely to be fraught with legal challenges however, if it ever comes to fruition.
Labour was scathing in its response to the idea, with shadow employment minister Justin Madders describing it as “just another gimmick that’s not dealing with the root of the problem”.
The other question is where the migrants will be deported to. While the government’s big and highly controversial solution is to send people to Rwanda, the policy has been stuck in the courts for more than a year – with a final decision on its legality expected this autumn.
If the Home Office wins the case, Ms Braverman says “we will be operationalising our policy” – ie getting migrants on board the planes as soon as possible. But “if we’re thwarted by the courts…we’ll do whatever it takes to stop the boats”.
Could this mean attempting to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, the basis of these legal challenges? It’s a long-held dream of many Tory backbenchers – but Rishi Sunak dropped plans drawn up by his predecessors to do so when he first became prime minister.
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Suella Braverman herself has previously spoken out in favour of leaving – but others warn that such a momentous decision would be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, and the EU Withdrawal Agreement, with far-reaching repercussions.
While the home secretary may now be back at her desk and on the airways – it seems the problems facing her department have only deepened over the summer.