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Children fleeing conflict and persecution in other parts of the world should still be deported from the UK if they cross the Channel in small boats, according to hardline new proposals from an influential conservative thinktank.

The paper from Policy Exchange – sometimes used as a platform by senior Tory ministers to trail new measures – envisages the sidestepping of the Human Rights Act and Modern Slavery Act in order to eliminate legal challenges to removing men, women and children.

It includes a foreword by the former Australian immigration minister Alexander Downer, who was commissioned under Priti Patel’s tenure as home secretary to review the UK Border Force. In it, he describes Channel crossings as “an existential crisis for the government”.

Setting out a 12-point list that, it argues, any new legislation on so-called small boats “must meet in order to be effective”, the paper calls for the home secretary to be placed under a duty to remove anyone who arrives or attempts to arrive unlawfully in the UK by small boat from a safe country such as France.

“Importantly, this has to apply without exception, including to unaccompanied children, to discourage further Channel crossings and to prevent removals being challenged in the courts,” writes Downer, chair of the thinktank’s board of trustees.

The former Australian minister, a key architect of that country’s controversial policy that diverted asylum seekers to Pacific Island states, claimed that “Britain’s borders are out of control”.

The paper was co-authored by Prof Richard Ekins, Head of Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project – which has previously been praised by home secretary Suella Braverman as “the only public defender of constitutional orthodoxy” – who writes: “The crisis in the Channel will not end until it is clear to all concerned that choosing to cross on a small boat is not a viable means of entering and remaining in the UK.

“This cannot be achieved without reform to the legal framework, reform which requires legislation.”

Sir Stephen Laws KC, who was first parliamentary counsel from 2006-2012, one of a group of government lawyers who draft legislation, is also co-author.

The paper proposes that new legislation must “disapply” the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Modern Slavery Act 2015, “which would mean that human rights litigation in UK courts could not frustrate the will of parliament.”

Anyone who is fit to fly should be removed, it adds, although no one should be removed to a country where they face persecution.

It envisages the proposed legislation would not apply to other unlawful migrants, as “the Channel crisis has particular features that warrant a bespoke regime”, and extending it to others would make it harder to justify or to implement.

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The plans were condemned by the Refugee Council as “an approach akin to authoritarian nations” and as one that ignored the fact that most of the people in small boats are men, women and children fleeing war and persecution.

“The proposals will simply leave people living in limbo for months on end facing detention and then expulsion from the UK being treated as criminals without a fair hearing on UK soil, having their rights trampled on,” said Enver Solomon, the CEO of the Refugee Council.

“It is an approach more akin to authoritarian nations that walk away from international human rights treaties, such as Russia or Belarus, and is no way to treat those who have lost everything through no fault of their own.

“We need an approach that replaces the chaos and cost of what we have now and focuses on compassion and competence, creating safe and orderly routes for refugees to reach the UK, such as refugee visas, and always give people a fair hearing so their rights are respected.”


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