*** DEBUG END ***

Leader comment: Boat-burning: the Government’s new policy

10 March 2023

IT ALL seemed to be going so well. It is less than two weeks ago that the Windsor Framework was announced, pulling the UK back from Boris Johnson’s bullish threat to renege on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Now the Government has tabled the Illegal Migration Bill, which will criminalise all asylum-seekers who reach the UK by small boat — a move that, the Home Secretary has admitted, is more than 50 per cent likely to be contrary both to the country’s legal obligations under the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which Britain helped to frame. The plan is also technically illegal under the Government’s own Human Rights Act: Article 5 states that immigrants can be detained only if there is a “realistic prospect” of removal.

It is hard to see this as anything other than a cynical political move. Having made the control of immigration a key issue in their run-up to the next General Election, the Conservatives had to be seen to be doing something. Proposing a solution that will be challenged in the courts will effortlessly shift the blame for longstanding ineffectiveness to “the judges”, with whom, the Prime Minister declared on Tuesday, he was “up for a fight”. When the election arrives, the chances are that the boats will still be arriving but the electorate will have been told endlessly that it is the fault of human-rights legislation and leftish lawyers.

It is important, then, to resist the word-game that the Government is promoting, in which “asylum-seeker” equals “illegal”, which equals “criminal”. The gangs that run the boats are certainly criminals, and of the worst kind. Of their passengers, a proportion are masquerading as asylum-seekers — though their “crime” is mostly to flee poverty rather than persecution. The majority, however, are genuinely in need of asylum — the Refugee Council reckons as many as two-thirds — and are compelled to use illegal and unsafe routes to the UK until the Government creates legal and safe ones, which appears not to be a priority.

As we have said in the past, the issue of migration needs global solutions. At the very least, the UK needs to work more intelligently with the rest of Europe. In recent years, it has alternately blamed, cajoled, and bribed France, arguing that, since it is a safe country, every migrant who leaves it can be returned. Europe, for its part, repeatedly blames the UK for not shouldering its share of the refugee burden, the avoidance of which was a factor in Brexit. By announcing a draconian policy, one that will encourage right-wing parties in France and across the Continent, the Government has made President Macron’s position more insecure. Then to expect to negotiate a new deal shows just how poor the UK has become at diplomacy. But its casual approach to longstanding legal and moral obligations has already shown that. Whither “global Britain” now?

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)