Strikes threatened over Priti Patel’s plan to use jet skis to push migrant boats back to France

Border Force officers are threatening to strike over Priti Patel’s plans to turn back migrants’ dinghies in the Channel.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents some Border Force and immigration officials, said it was “totally opposed” to the “morally reprehensible” pushback tactics.

Border Force has yet to deploy the tactics, where jet skis block and redirect migrant boats back towards France when they intercept them in the Channel.

The Home Secretary has maintained that they are within the law and will only be deployed when commanders deem them safe to do so. She has also argued that the move is justified after the number of migrants reaching the UK last year tripled to 28,000.

2021 has seen a spike in Channel migrant crossings

The PCS, which represents around 80 per cent of Border Force officials, and Care4Calais, a refugee charity, announced on Wednesday that they were taking the Home Office to court over the policy and had filed an application for a judicial review.

The judicial review will challenge the lawfulness of the policy, which the PCS argued “contravenes international law and is morally reprehensible”.

Even if the court application is unsuccessful, the union has not ruled out industrial action and officials refusing to carry out the pushbacks.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: "The legality of the pushbacks policy is in serious question, and it is right that the court decides whether it is unlawful to turn back Channel boats.

"We cannot have a situation where our members could be open to potential civil and criminal action for implementing a policy that they do not agree with and know is not safe.

"Although we are hoping for a positive outcome from the legal proceedings, people should be in no doubt PCS strongly opposes this policy, on moral and humanitarian grounds, and we will not rule out industrial action to prevent it being carried out."

The union said its members who work for Border Force are “deeply concerned” the policy will be impossible to implement in a safe way, due to difficulties in assessing whether a boat at sea can be safely turned around.

Members may also be exposed to personal civil or criminal liability if the policy is deemed unlawful, the union claimed.

Clare Moseley, founder of the refugee charity Care4Calais, said: "The proposed policy deprioritises the UK’s duty under domestic and international law to save lives at sea.

"It is for good reason that this duty is a cornerstone of International maritime law. If eroded, I fear it will enable the UK to devalue lives at sea.

"It risks opening the gates to the horrific scenes we are seeing in the Mediterranean."

The Home Office continues to explore various options in its bid to halt crossings by thousands of people from France aboard small boats.

Who is responsible for preventing migrants from crossing the English Channel?

Facing another year with thousands of crossings, the Home Office has invited businesses to an event later this month in the hope of gleaning new ideas on how to solve the crisis.

Attendees will be bound by a non-disclosure agreement and then invited to "share their innovative ideas, new approaches and potential solutions which can be legally deployable in the UK".

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