Scrap the Human Rights Act or more people will die in the Channel, warn Tory MPs

Tory MPs have called for a radical overhaul of the Human Rights Act as Whitehall insiders admitted Priti Patel’s plan to turn back boats carrying migrants would likely break existing law.

One Conservative MP said on Thursday that if the Government was “weak”, more people travelling across the Channel seeking asylum in Britain could die, while a second called for the entire piece of legislation to be scrapped.

Dominic Raab, the recently installed Justice Secretary, is planning reforms to the Human Rights Act, which incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998.

However, it remains unclear if the changes that are being sought would allow the Government to adopt hardline measures on tackling the arrival of small boats.

Ms Patel, the Home Secretary, is proposing a “turn back the boats” policy that would see vessels carrying migrants across the Channel escorted back towards the country they left from.

However, the policy has triggered a heated battle inside the Government amid fears that people on the boats could puncture them as UK vessels try to turn them around, meaning they would have to be rescued.

A senior government figure has warned that the policy itself could fall foul of existing laws, such as the Human Rights Act or obligations in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

Internal government estimates also suggest that even if the controversial policy could be adopted, it would only be able to turn back around one per cent of boats crossing the Channel carrying migrants.

More migrants were brought ashore on Thursday after crossing the Channel at night

Credit: Stuart Brock/LNP

Leaked documents seen by The Guardian earlier this month showed that Ms Patel would likely lose a legal challenge if she implemented the plan, with the chances of success on the challenge put at just 30 per cent.

Home Office sources argue there is a legal way to adopt the policy, noting that Greece and Australia do something similar. However, they admit the chances of it ever being used are low.

Calls for a more radical overhaul of the Human Rights Act were voiced across the Tory Party on Thursday night, including reports that Boris Johnson himself favours going further than planned.

Sir Edward Leigh, one of the longest-serving Tory MPs, said: “We cannot wait on the French cooperating and taking these poor people back, as they should. We have to act now in a national emergency to save lives.

“There are only two countries in the world that have solved this problem: Australia, which has an offshore processing centre, and Greece, which does push-back.

“We have to be tough. We have to face down the human rights lawyers. If governments are weak, people die.”

‘We need to do everything to make these dangerous routes unviable’

Scott Benton, the Tory MP for Blackpool South, who was elected in 2019, addressed the "tragic loss of life" in the Channel, which saw at least 27 people die when a dinghy capsized off the coast of Calais on Wednesday.

Migrant boat capsize in English Channel

He said the deadliest day of the crisis on record underlines "why we need to do everything possible to make these dangerous routes unviable", including scrapping the Human Rights Act.

He said: "There is nothing compassionate or moral about allowing criminal gangs to exploit vulnerable people.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the House of Commons leader, acknowledged "concerns" about the Act have been a "theme" during a debate in the Chamber on Thursday morning.

He said: "We must be able to govern ourselves in this country in a way that secures safety and wellbeing for people trying to come here and people who are already here.

"I would remind honourable and right honourable members that this place is sovereign and we are always able to amend any and all acts of Parliament if we can get a majority for it in both Houses. And that is, I think, of fundamental constitutional importance."

Ms Patel defended her policy approach to the issue, saying at one point: “I have not ruled anything out. I put every option on the table.” But she warned there was no “quick fix”.

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