“Stop the Boats”: The Conservatives’ war on migration

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Despite clear concerns over its legal viability and humanitarian dubiousness, the government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill has been significantly championed by Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary, Suella Braverman. Through this, anyone who arrives illegally in the UK will initially be detained for 28 days, with the Government planning on either returning the overwhelming majority of these asylum seekers to e their original nation or resettling them in a “safe” third-party state, likely Rwanda.

These measures come into clear conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), meaning the Government is likely to face many legal challenges on this policy, dampening the likelihood that this bill will come into force.

Given the legal precariousness of the Illegal Migration Bill, many will call into question why the government has proposed this policy. With it being very likely that the Government will be taken to the High Court, and potentially the court of the ECHR in Germany, this proposed law seems potentially unworkable, with Braverman herself admitting that there was a more than 50 per cent chance the bill is incompatible with ECHR principles.

If the government refuses to accept a ruling against it at the ECHR, this might violate international law, with the right to claim asylum established since 1951. However, it appears the government has decided that the benefits of appearing stringent on migration – as part of a broader “war on refugees” policy – outstrip the legal obstacles that the bill faces.

With it being very likely that the Government will be taken to the High Court, and potentially the court of the ECHR in Germany, this proposed law seems potentially unworkable

This “war on refugees” may be best viewed as another example of the current Conservative government looking to incite “culture war” divides, capitalising on the political polarisation that Brexit and social media have helped create. Even the messaging around the Illegal Migration Bill, particularly its staple message of “stop the boats”, is reminiscent of other populist messaging, such as “Get Brexit Done”, by the Government. By furthering political division in the UK, the Conservatives are deflecting from internal shortcomings and redirecting the political agenda towards policies where they feel they have the upper hand, with Conservative attacks on Labour as “soft” on migration likely to play a force during the next general election campaign.

For the Labour Party, much of its reaction to the Illegal Migration Bill is to downplay the likelihood that it passes without any legal challenges, depicting the bill as unfeasible. This serves a dual purpose for Labour: allowing them to portray the Government as impractical, as well as providing an opportunity to sidestep questions on the Labour position on illegal migration. Policies such as the Illegal Migration Bill are targeted towards voters including those in the ‘Red Wall’, who tend to have more anti-migration views, so avoiding engagement with the question of illegal migration helps the Labour Party hold together its prospective voter base, spanning from anti-migration ‘Red Wall’ voters who Labour is trying to win back, as well as pro-migration demographics who tend to be younger and live in urban areas.

The main policy-oriented line of attack from Labour is instead to focus on how minorities, especially female victims of human trafficking, will be disproportionately affected by the Illegal Migration Bill, looking to question the humanitarian dilemmas within the policy.

This “war on refugees” may be best viewed as another example of the current Conservative government looking to incite “culture war” divides

Internationally, reaction to the Illegal Migration Bill has been generally negative, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees deploring the policy as anti-humanitarian and detrimental to human rights. These beliefs have been echoed by charities and humanitarian groups, who believe that the bill erodes the long-established right to asylum and furthers the hardship of refugees, who are already a vulnerable group. In spite of this, some right-wing European parties – particularly Germany’s far-right AfD – have praised the bill for seeking to curb immigration.

When viewed holistically, the Illegal Migration Bill is indicative more of the government’s desire to promote incendiary and polarising issues for political gain rather than simply a debate on migration. In seeking to stoke up electoral divisions, the bill could work to weaken Labour’s potential electoral base for the next general election. At the same time the legal and humanitarian opposition to the bill might just as easily backfire for the Conservatives, given that the radicalism of the policy is alienating for many voters.

Image: Ggia via Wikimedia Commons

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