By Isabel Ringrose
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Sunak’s anti-refugee plan sets out to divide and rule

The Tories hope the Illegal Migration Bill and funding a detention centre in France will distract from the failing economy and cost of living crisis
Issue 2846
Prime minister, Rishi Sunak

Prime minister, Rishi Sunak plans to stop refugees who cross the Channel from claiming asylum (Picture Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street)

The row over the suspension of BBC football presenter Gary Lineker has highlighted the Tories’ vilification of refugees.

Their new proposed legislation—the Illegal Migration Bill—would lock up and then seek to deport desperate people who travel to Britain without documentation. It would block them, whatever their circumstances, from claiming asylum.

Rishi Sunak announced the plans last Tuesday under the slogan, “Stop the boats.” Home secretary Suella Braverman has already admitted at least half of it breaks human rights laws. Only children under 18 years old and people who are ill would be able to apply for asylum, and appeals would be restricted.

Attacking refugees serves a ­purpose for the Tories—to shift attention and blame the most vulnerable for their abject failings. Plus, it’s a chance to drum up ­electoral gains. Sunak hopes that scapegoating ­refugees will keep his cabinet and party united, and help him cling onto the “red wall” seats picked up in the 2019 election.

But his narrative that this is “the people’s priority” is false. In reality it’s the priority for just 12 ­ percent of people. Some 40 ­percent care more about the economy, 35 percent rising prices and 25 percent the NHS, according to recent Ipsos polling.

That’s why Sunak is ­desperate to pin the failing economy and cost of living crisis on refugees. And the fascists and racists that support the moves have been bolstered by the Tories’ racist language of an “invasion”.

The far right message that refugees are bogus scroungers is now coming from Downing Street and the Home Office—and it helps them to grow. Their message is amplified by media lies—from 100,000 crossing the Channel, to myths about spas in hotels and £175 a week payments.

In reality refugees receive just £8 if they’re kept in a hotel. It’s part of the plan to make life in Britain miserable for refugees.

The Tories obsess over “safe ­countries” that refugees have passed through. Many of those who come to Britain do so because they have family links or can speak English. The majority of refugees don’t come to Europe, and if they do, it’s to France or Germany. Yet the Tories have sharpened their rhetoric—it’s cemented in “illegal” versus “genuine”. 

But there are no “safe and legal routes” as they claim. The only ones that exist are for Ukrainians, Afghans and people from Hong Kong—and even these don’t work. Only 22 refugees have come to Britain as part of the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme.

At the same time as slamming the borders shut, the Tories are looking to clear the way for more overseas construction workers to come to Britain. They pick and choose how and when immigration suits them. We know it’s possible to open the borders—that’s why over 200,000 Ukrainians have been let in.

But while ordinary people are unable to turn the heating on or eat more than one meal a day, the Tories have spotted an opportunity to shift the blame. Saturday’s anti-racist demonstrations are now more important than ever.

How can we destroy the bill? 

Mainstream critics of the Tories’ new bill say its biggest problem is its “unworkability”. Where will these deported refugees be kept or sent to, they ask?

In previous battles over the policing bill and Nationality and Borders bill, some campaigners put their faith in the ability of the House of Lords and Labour MPs to block it. That strategy failed and can’t be counted on again.

And it can’t be left to the courts to overturn anything that does get through. The Tories are determined and cruel enough to attempt to bulldoze aside any legal obstacles. 

Even if new laws can’t easily be implemented, life for refugees trying to reach Britain will be harder. Already 27 refugees drowned in the Channel in 2021 and four died last year. And violent mobilisations against refugees are increasing. We need unified class action—in the workplaces and on the streets.

Two zombie leaders unite against migrants

Rishi Sunak is forging an anti-migrant alliance with French leaders. He met with French president Emmanuel Macron last week in Paris to agree a £500 million package including more border patrols, 500 additional officers and a new incarceration centre in northern France.

It was a meeting of two zombie leaders who are using anti-migrant racism to divide waves of opposition that threatens them. But France has refused to be the “third country” that refugees attempting to reach Britain will be sent back to. 

Instead, Britain will fund a new detention centre in Dunkirk. Britain will give France £125 million this year, £169 million next year and £185 million in 2025. That’s on top of £3 billion in the last decade. Last November’s deal saw Britain agree to fund 40 percent of patrols. 

The new package doubles the number of officers again. It’s money for violence against asylum seekers, smashing their makeshift camps and jailing them. The centre, which will be built for 2026, will stop those who “persistently” cross the Channel.

Labour disgracefully wants harsher action. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the plans for not being swift enough. She said they “won’t even be in place for several years”.

In France, the under‑pressure government is preparing its own “asylum and immigration” bill. It is set to see a “hardening” of laws and in particular to make family reunification more difficult. And the French government wants to restrict further migrants’ rights to pensions and other social allowances.

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