Migrants intercepted in the English Channel could be arrested on arrival in the UK, under the Government’s Borders Bill, which will also make it harder for asylum seekers to prove they should remain in the country.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which will be laid in Parliament on Tuesday, will create new offences for arriving in the UK “without a valid entry clearance”, and target people traffickers with penalties for aiding illegal immigration.
The change is intended to help authorities to prosecute migrants who attempt to travel to Britain on small boats across the Channel and are intercepted by Border Force officers.
Ministers are concerned the current offence of “entering” the country without leave does not technically cover migrants being intercepted in UK territorial waters and brought to shore by the Border Force.
The new offence will be subject to a maximum prison sentence of four years, while the maximum sentence for facilitating illegal entry will increase from 14 years to life imprisonment.
Priti Patel said the Bill contained “vital measures to fix the UK’s broken asylum system”, adding: “Our new plan for immigration is fair but firm. We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it.”
Ayslum seekers will need greater proof they face persecution
The legislation is also expected to raise the “level of proof” required for asylum seekers to show that they face persecution in their home countries, and to avoid deportation.
Currently, immigration officials must believe there is a “reasonable degree of likelihood” that an asylum seeker has “a well-founded fear of persecution”.
The Telegraph understands that Ms Patel will raise the threshold so officials will instead be required to come to a decision on “the balance of probabilities”.
The change in wording effectively means it would have to be more likely than not that a claimant will face persecution if they return to their country of origin.
Guidance issued in 2015 to officials stated that the “level of proof needed to establish the material facts is a relatively low one – a reasonable degree of likelihood … because of what is potentially at stake – the individual’s life or liberty – and because asylum seekers are unlikely to be able to compile and carry dossiers of evidence out of the country of persecution.”
It adds: “‘Reasonable degree of likelihood’ is a long way below the criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, and it is less than the civil standard of ‘the balance of probabilities’ (i.e. ‘more likely than not’).”
A Home Office source said that the clause aimed at migrants arriving on small boats “broadens” the current offence of entering the UK without valid clearance, “so that it encompasses arrival, as well as entry into the UK. This will allow prosecutions of individuals who are intercepted in UK territorial seas and brought into the UK who arrive in but don’t technically ‘enter’ the UK.”
Last week, it also emerged that the bill would also include a provision to create an offshore immigration processing centre for asylum seekers.
Separately, The Telegraph disclosed that the Home Office has ordered a major overhaul of the Border Force amid growing frustration over the failure to stem the flow of illegal Channel migrants.
The two directors-general of Border Force and Immigration Enforcement are quitting their posts and will be replaced by a single supremo tasked with curbing the crossings and overhauling Britain’s “broken” asylum system.
Consultants are also said to have been recruited to investigate a merger of the two Home Office directorates as the Government seeks to regain the initiative after a doubling in illegal migrant crossings this year and the failure to deport any to “safe” third countries.