Sunak threatens to overrule Lords and force through small boats Bill

Braverman says Labour has 'no plan' on small boats

Rishi Sunak has suggested he may defy the House of Lords to force his Illegal Migration Bill through Parliament.

The Prime Minister has told a national newspaper that the new law to decrease the number of migrant crossings were “very strongly” supported by MPs and described them as “incredibly important”.

The tough talk from the PM comes after peers threatened to delay the proposed law to prevent small boats crossing the Channel.

Mr Sunak twice suggested that he could use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through if necessary. The rarely-used mechanism allows the House of Commons to overrule the Lords should a bill be voted down by peers.

Peers on the opposite side of the aisle have called for the legislation to be prevented from progressing until an impact assessment is published. Additionally the Liberal Democrats have previously tried to block the Bill.

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On Monday, Mr Sunak cited a 20 per cent drop in illegal Channel migration so far in 2023 as he claimed his small boats plan was working.

The acquisition of two new accommodation barges to house migrants were announced by the Prime Minister, who also disclosed that the French have intercepted over half of the migrants trying to cross the Channel for the first time.

Mr Sunak issued a stern warning to the Lords, where the Tories do not enjoy a majority, when questioned if he was prepared to use the mechanism.

The Prime Minister told the Telegraph: “One of my five priorities is to stop the boats. This legislation is an incredibly important part of how we’re going to do that. 

“It passed the House of Commons very strongly. And my intention is to see this piece of legislation on the statute books so that we can start using it.”

When asked a second time, Mr Sunak said: “I want to see this legislation on the statute books. It’s one of my five priorities. It is the country’s priority and this legislation is an incredibly important part of how we’re going to do that.”

Later a government source added: “The Bill has overwhelming support in the Commons – and the Lords should respect that.”

When on a visit to Dover on Monday to see Border Force official assisting in the rescue of small boats, the Prime Minister said: “Our approach is working. I said I will stop the boats and I meant it.”

Mr Sunak backed up his statement by citing the 20 per cent fall in the number of migrants crossing the channel, dropping from 9,575 in the first five months of 2022 to 7,610 in the same period in 2023.

There has also been more success in the prevention of crossing by the French border officers and police, who have stopped 53.2 per cent, or 8,635, so far this year, up from 41.9 per cent last year.

The purchase of two more barges to house 1,000 migrants were announced by Mr Sunak to bring the total up to three – with one in Portland Harbour, Dorset, which will receive its maiden 500 asylum seekers in a couple of weeks’ time.

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The Prime Minister also announced that two former RAF bases – Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield in Essex – will take 3,000 more migrants when it opens in the summer.

The overall drop could be partially explained by a 90 per cent fall in Albanians crossing the Channel, however recent figures show that Turkish migrants crossing using small boats has tripled, while that of Indians has been multiplied by eight.

A briefing from the House of Commons library indicates that just seven laws have been passed using the Parliament Act, with the most recent case being that of the Hunting Act of 2004, which banned fox hunting.

Mr Sunak could only force the Bill through if the Lords voted it down, rather than just altering it.

During a Lords debate on Monday, peers threatened that the only way to prevent them from delaying the Illegal Migration Bill would be for the Home Office to publish its impact assessment of the measures.

Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath received shouts of endorsement as he claimed the Bill should not reach the next stage of legislation without the assessment being published.

Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth, said it would be published “in due course”.

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