Minister clashes with Kay Burley over ‘staggering’ migrant figures

Michele Donelan clashed with Kay Burley this morning over the UK’s approach to migrants. The Sky News presenter asked the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology about the Government’s new small boats legislation, which will bar people who enter the UK illegally from claiming asylum. Pressing Ms Donelan on the issue, Ms Burley said: “It’s not illegal though, is it, to seek asylum? It’s illegal to smuggle people into the UK. Shouldn’t the smugglers be the ones that you’re going for?”

Ms Donelan said the Government is introducing “proportionate” responses, saying: “Of course, we want to tackle criminal gangs.”

But she added: “We do have to say it is not okay to travel here illegally. If they’re travelling illegally, they shouldn’t be allowed to stay.”

Pushing back at Ms Burley’s line of questioning, Ms Donelan continued: “We cannot take everybody – as much as we would love to. We just cannot. And we have to have a system that works and that’s why we’re bringing forward this legislation is why the Prime Minister has acted.”

But Ms Burley hit back: “But again, minister, it’s not illegal to seek asylum. It’s illegal to smuggle people.”

The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology told Sky: “I don’t think it’s right for people to travel across many safe countries to get here and then choose to try and seek asylum via illegal routes, that simply cannot be acceptable.”

The new legislation, set to be published as soon as Tuesday, would make asylum claims inadmissible from those who travel to the UK on small boats.

Yesterday the Prime Minister vowed to end to “immoral” illegal migration, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman saying: “enough is enough”.

Mr Sunak made “stopping the boats” one of his five priorities and is under mounting pressure from Tory backbenchers to fix the problem.

Addressing MPs in December, the PM set out a five-point plan to deal with illegal migration and help speed up the assessment of claims from countries deemed “safe”.

It included “significantly” raising the threshold someone has to meet before being considered trafficked as a slave and processing claims from Albanian nationals in “weeks instead of months”.

He said that illegal migration is “unfair on the British people who play by the rules”.

The Prime Minister said “enough is enough”, adding: “It is not cruel or unkind to want to break the stranglehold of the criminal gangs who trade in human misery and who exploit our system and laws.”

The last set of migration figures, published in November last year, show that net migration rose to 504,000 in the year to June 2022.

Net migration for the year ending June 2015 – the year before the UK voted to leave the EU – was 336,000.

The latest Home Office figures show 2,950 migrants have crossed the Channel already this year.

But campaigners have expressed concern about the new laws, with Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, saying the plans “shatter the UK’s long-standing commitment under the UN Convention to give people a fair hearing regardless of the path they have taken to reach our shores”.

He added: “They will simply add more cost and chaos to the system.

“The majority of the men, women and children who cross the Channel do so because they are desperate to escape war, conflict and persecution.”

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