ACTIVISTS celebrated “a stunning victory” today after Britain‘s Home Secretary Priti Patel abandoned her controversial plans to push refugees crossing the Channel back to France.
Care4Calais, Channel Rescue, Freedom from Torture and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union brought legal challenges against the Home Office last year opposing its proposed policy of turning back small refugee boats in the Channel.
Their applications were set for a three-day hearing on May 3 at the High Court.
The organisations argued that the UK Border Force did not have the legal power to push asylum seekers back across the Channel, and that Ms Patel’s policy would breach the Refugee Convention and international maritime law.
The plans, they said, would direct border guards to abandon their duty of care to people on small boats, and force them to breach asylum seekers’ right to life, the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right not to be subjected to slavery.
“Following correspondence from the government’s legal department on Sunday night, which confirmed that the Home Office has withdrawn the policy, the judicial review claims have now been withdrawn,” the organisations said today in a joint statement today.
The Home Office also agreed to pay the claimants costs.
Ms Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill is in its final stages, and parts of it have twice been rejected by the House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper house.
The Bill is due to appear in front of the lords again tomorrow and is expected to face further opposition.
Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said it is hard to believe that anyone within government thought that performing pushbacks in the Channel was a viable policy.
“We’re delighted that no more time or money will be wasted on this idea,” Ms Moseley said. “But it’s a shame it took a legal challenge from our charity and others to put an end to it.
“We are now preparing to challenge the government’s next toxic idea – to send innocent people to Rwanda – another staggeringly expensive exercise when we should be helping people who are simply trying to escape bloody conflict, persecution and torture.”
Steven Martin, an activist with the human rights monitoring group Channel Rescue, said the climbdown was due to the tireless work of organisations fighting against unlawful government policies.
“Pushbacks are a reckless endangerment to life and we have always maintained and reminded the government that they are unlawful,” Mr Martin said.
“The violent forcing back of people seeking protection is abhorrent and deprives them of their right to asylum. We are thankful to our legal team, the Good Law Project and everyone who has supported Channel Rescue in shutting down this despicable policy.
“And while we may have won, the government is still pursuing other dangerous avenues which we will continue to challenge”
Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture Sonya Sceats said the victory is one more nail in the coffin of a toxic anti-refugee ideology, embodied by the Nationality and Borders Bill.
“Britain is at a crossroads and must choose whether to follow the lead of a government that has lost its way on the most basic questions of morality or instead a path of compassion for people fleeing torture, war and persecution.” Ms Sceats said.
“The incredible outpouring of support for refugees we are seeing shows that the public does not want Britain to be a country that sends people fleeing atrocities to camps in Rwanda.”
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “This humiliating climbdown by the government is a stunning victory for Home Office workers and for refugees.
“PCS is proud to have brought this legal action alongside refugee groups in order to prevent this morally reprehensible and utterly inhumane proposal from ever seeing the light of day.
“There is little doubt that lives have been saved. The Pushbacks manoeuvre is extremely dangerous and represents a clear risk to life and limb. We were simply not prepared to allow our members to be placed in this horrendous position.”
Top image shows the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Home Secretary Priti Patel