Border Force officials could strike over 'reprehensible' plans to turn back dinghies in Channel

5 January 2022, 15:26

The Home Office is facing legal action over proposals to turn small boats around at sea
The Home Office is facing legal action over proposals to turn small boats around at sea. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Border Force officials have announced they could strike over Priti Patel's "morally reprehensible" plans to turn back dinghies in the English Channel.

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The Home Office is facing legal action over proposals to turn small boats around at sea, with campaigners warning the tactic could put lives at risk.

It comes as the Government continues to consider various options in its bid to halt crossings by thousands of people from France aboard small boats, including asking businesses for "innovative ideas".

READ MORE: Number of people crossing English Channel in small boats tripled in 2021

READ MORE: 27 migrants die in Channel crossing after 'floating death trap' dinghy deflates

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), whose members include around 80% of the Border Force officials who would be tasked with implementing the "pushbacks", and the charity Care4Calais have filed an application for judicial review on the pushback policy.

They intend to challenge the lawfulness of redirecting boats out of UK waters and back to France.

The union said the policy "contravenes international law and is morally reprehensible", and could expose Border Force officials to risk of prosecution.

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

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka 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."

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," she added.

Despite the Home Secretary's pledge to make crossings an "infrequent phenomenon" by spring 2020, more than 36,000 people have succeeded in reaching the UK in the last two years.

Figures show that 28,300 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats in 2021, triple the number for 2020.

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".