Ex-foreign minister of Australia ALEXANDER DOWNER on Channel migrants

‘We need to destroy the traffickers’ business model and ask the Left: What’s YOUR solution?’: As a tough new crackdown on Channel migrants looms, ex-foreign minister of Australia ALEXANDER DOWNER gives his verdict

At last, Rishi Sunak’s Government is ready to put a stop to dangerous illegal immigration, with a zero-tolerance policy.

There has always been only one way to do this: dismantling the hugely lucrative business model used by ruthless people smuggling gangs.

Organised criminals will resist, yes. So will the hard-Left, aided by intransigent Whitehall civil servants — often termed the ‘Blob’ — intent on thwarting every Tory policy. But, finally, Home Secretary Suella Braverman is demonstrating her serious intent.

With more than 45,000 migrants making the illegal journey across the Channel from Europe in 2022 alone, I co-authored a document for the Policy Exchange think-tank last month, titled ‘How to legislate about small boats’, aimed at dissecting the existential problem Britain faces.

In short, it explained we simply cannot continue to allow illegal migration to be masterminded by these gangs, with all the consequent damage to our education system, our housing, our economy and our crime levels. After all, a great majority of the public understands this instinctively.

Rishi Sunak’s Government is ready to put a stop to dangerous illegal immigration (file image)

Our proposed solution was equally simple: ‘No person who enters the UK unlawfully on a small boat from a safe state [should] ever be permitted to settle in the UK’.

Just a few weeks on from the report’s publication, it seems the Home Office has listened — and fast. I applaud both their determination and courage.

I have not yet seen the Home Secretary’s Bill, but what we know so far seems both plausible and workable.

As the Mail revealed yesterday, tough new measures are to be unveiled to ensure that anyone caught trying to enter Britain by a dangerous ‘irregular route’, such as a Channel crossing in a small boat, would face a lifetime ban from the country — and be deported. This will certainly send out a strong message of deterrence.

But the problem is that actually stopping the people smugglers is made far more difficult by the machinations of the Government’s cynical opponents. My challenge to them is this: state your case. Instead of constantly undermining immigration control, tell us the alternative.

If the Left truly believes in unrestricted immigration, if they think everyone who wants to come to the UK should be allowed to do so without question, then they must say so.

If that is not their position, they have a duty to the public to explain how they intend to get a grip on the influx of migrants. There is no middle ground. Either we have rules or we don’t. Because, as far as the people smugglers are concerned, they are free to make their own rules right now.

And their trade is quite literally murderous. Migrants crammed onto dinghies, crossing one of the busiest stretches of sea in the world, put not only their own lives at risk but those of the coastguards, RNLI, Royal Navy crews and border guards who come to their rescue. To reward this by allowing them to stay in Britain isn’t merely immoral, it actively encourages other people to do the same, while enriching the gangs who run these routes.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Allies in non-government organisations and in politics have been quick to react, too, to news of Sunak’s proposal

Now, of course, a humane, well-organised system must exist for refugees fleeing war zones or others seeking asylum. But those who try to dodge that and act illegally must forfeit our sympathy.

It’s tough, but it can be done — as I know from implementing a similar policy in Australia in the early 2000s when I worked as the foreign affairs minister.

To be successful, the Government will need to work quickly. Already there are several legal tools available, such as repatriation or sending illegal migrants back to the country they left in the first place.

Another is the ‘Rwanda option’ — the flagship policy of the former Home Secretary, Priti Patel, which proposes using the African nation as a safe holding zone where would-be migrants can live while their applications are processed.

So far, this bold plan has been thwarted by an unholy alliance of opposition, including civil service intransigence, human-rights lobbyists, Leftie political militants and the self-serving legal brigade.

Indeed, the perceived Left-wing bias in Whitehall was made all too apparent last week when we discovered that Boris Johnson’s Civil Service investigator, Sue Gray, who led the Cabinet Office’s report on parties in No 10 during the pandemic, is to become Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Naturally, the Blob has immediately tried to halt Rishi’s new policy against small boats.

Knee-jerk resistance from Whitehall mandarins was highlighted by Sir David Normington, a former permanent secretary to the Home Office, who cast doubt on the feasibility of the solutions being put forward in the Illegal Migration Bill.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Organised criminals will resist, yes. So will the hard-Left, aided by intransigent Whitehall civil servants

Talking to Times Radio on Sunday, Sir David said: ‘I really don’t see how the Prime Minister’s objectives are going to be achieved.’ Having first-hand experience of the atmosphere inside Whitehall, he said, he believed the plans were unworkable.

Last year, anonymous staff within Whitehall began posting ‘Refugees Welcome’ stickers around government buildings across the country, plastering them on Home Office printers and pieces of furniture. One poster featured Paddington, claiming that the cartoon bear was also an illegal immigrant who had arrived in Britain on a small boat.

Another poster urged Home Office workers to be ‘Courageous: We have the spine to say “No, minister”. No to hostile environments, no to shutting down democracy, no to racist deportations.’

Staff pleaded to be excused from working on immigration policy, saying that it was detrimental to their mental health and could push them ‘over the edge’.

Allies in non-government organisations and in politics have been quick to react, too, to news of Sunak’s proposal.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: ‘These 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. They will simply add more cost and chaos to the system.’

In all this, the Government’s enemies are bolstered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which despicably can overturn rulings made even by the highest legal authority in Britain, the Supreme Court.

This is a matter of national sovereignty. At some point, No 10 will have to decide who runs Britain, which means ruthlessly disregarding the interference of the ECHR — even leaving it altogether if necessary.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Another is the ‘Rwanda option’ — the flagship policy of the former Home Secretary, Priti Patel

And they will have to be ruthless. If the new legislation contains loopholes, such as exempting teenage migrants from the blanket bar on immigration, people smugglers will callously change their methods — and start sending adolescents across in boatloads.

The Home Office also needs to be far more decisive in dealing with the immigration backlog.

At the moment, there are around 166,000 people who have made asylum claims waiting to be fully processed. That’s the equivalent to the population of a town the size of Northampton.

Over 70 per cent of asylum claims in Britain are accepted, whereas in the EU the average is less than 40 per cent. That tells you why we’re seen as a soft touch.

Mr Sunak has indicated his intention to reduce that waiting list by more than 90,000 this year. This can only be done by dealing with applicants in blocks — which is possible, since most of them are armed with identical scripts, supplied by the criminal gangs.

We need to change that. We can no longer allow the Civil Service, the hard-Left and the ECHR to dictate our immigration rules. Above all, we cannot allow the people smugglers to keep writing the script.

n Alexander Downer was Australia’s minister for foreign affairs from 1996 to 2007.

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