Locking up people who enter the country illegally and barring them from ever settling in the UK are “options” under consideration by Suella Braverman and No 10 as the government puts a crackdown on small boats at the heart of its agenda.
The ideas are contained in a report by the rightwing thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies, for which Braverman wrote a foreword.
While the home secretary said she did not agree with everything in the report, the Home Office did not deny that some of the ideas were being examined as potential policy.
Asked about the idea of detaining asylum seekers and barring them from settlement, a government source said: “The prime minister and the home secretary are absolutely focused on cracking down on illegal migration first and foremost and are working through options together in order to ensure we have control of our borders.”
Labour said the government’s position was “just chaos and it is clear no one has a grip”.
Sunak has made stopping small boat crossings one of his political priorities despite the difficulties of tackling the issue, with focus groups suggesting it is a big concern for Conservative voters.
The Centre for Policy Studies report was co-authored by Nick Timothy, a former Home Office adviser and Downing Street chief of staff; it calls for a set of new policies to stop the Channel crossings.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister under Braverman, appeared to signal a much tougher approach in an interview with GB News on Saturday, saying he wanted to created a system “where deterrence is suffused through the whole thing”.
He added: “To me that means that you should not get a route to life in the UK if you come here illegally. There will be policies like [deportations to] Rwanda at the heart of it – and I hope that we can enact that as soon as it gets through the British courts. It will also mean looking at how we treat people on arrival, so that nobody thinks that coming to the UK is a soft touch, and the UK is not a better site for ‘asylum shoppers’ than our EU neighbour.”
The CPS report proposes indefinite detention for all asylum seekers who enter the country illegally, as well as rapid “offshoring” to Rwanda for those who enter the country illegally – a policy currently blocked by legal challenges.
It also recommends new laws making it impossible to claim asylum in the UK after travelling from a safe country, and barring migrants who enter the country illegally from settling in Britain.
The authors also endorse changes to human rights laws to allow detention and offshoring – including, if necessary, Britain’s withdrawal from the European convention on human rights.
In her foreword, Braverman wrote: “The prime minister and I are committed to doing whatever it takes. We are finalising our plan, and we will deliver the operational and legislative changes necessary to comprehensively tackle this problem.
“While I do not agree with everything in this report, I welcome it as a vital and necessary contribution to the policy debate about what can be done to tackle the crossings … there are a range of policy options.
“And with clear thinking, political will, and determination, we can prevail against the smuggling gangs, against those who abuse our system, and we will comprehensively tackle the small boats problem.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said Braverman was “chasing one set of headlines by putting her name to a report that contradicts government policy while the immigration minister is briefing something totally different, and meanwhile no one is doing the serious work to sort things out”.
“This shows Rishi Sunak’s appalling judgment in reappointing Suella Braverman and his weakness in allowing this chaos to continue.”
Cooper added: “The Conservatives have now had six home secretaries and eight immigration ministers in seven years, and all they’ve done is make the problems worse.
Instead of the rhetoric and headline-chasing, they should adopt Labour’s plan, including a specialist unit in the National Crime Agency to go after the criminal gangs that are driving this, and immediate action to clear the backlog and the chaos from the asylum system.”