The refugee ‘pushback’ policy was officially withdrawn by the Government just days before it was up for judicial review in the high court. The Government’s legal department acknowledged the change in a letter yesterday. The cruel policy, finalised last autumn by the Home Office, gave permission and encouraged Border Force officials to stop migrant vessels in UK waters and forcibly turn them back to France.
Ms Patel confirmed her backing of the policy last January, when she said that pushing back boats was “absolutely still policy” when she gave evidence to the Lords justice and home affairs committee.
But now yesterday’s letter has revealed the Home Secretary’s officials were told last week the Ministry of Defence, which is now responsible for picking up refugees from the Channel, did not have permission to use the tactic.
The legal department stated the policy and procedures had been withdrawn.
The letter said that a “significant development” had meant the case would no longer go ahead.
It added: “That development flowed from the prime minister’s announcement on Thursday 14 April 2022 that the Ministry of Defence was taking over primacy in respect of Channel operations with regard to small boat crossings.
“As a result of a military order notified to the secretary of state for the home department’s officials earlier on 20 April 2022, the Ministry of Defence joint commander has not had permission to authorise the use of turnaround tactics.”
The letter went on to add that if turnaround tactics were to be used in the future, it would only be in specific situations with a “full consideration of all relevant matters”.
The PCS union, Care4Calais, Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture had all challenged the policy, with their applications due to be heard on May 3.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This humiliating climbdown by the Government is a stunning victory for Home Office workers and for refugees.
“There is little doubt that lives have been saved. The pushback manoeuvre is extremely dangerous and represents a clear risk to life and limb.
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“But we should never have had to take this government to court in order to defend the sanctity of life – it is scandalous that it reached this point.”
Steven Martin of Channel Rescue said: “Pushbacks are a reckless endangerment to life and we have always maintained and reminded the government that they are unlawful.
“The violent forcing back of people seeking protection is abhorrent and deprives them of their right to asylum.”
According to the Guardian, unpublished parts of the proposed pushback policy said the tactic would not be used against asylum seekers.