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For months at the centre of political debate in the United Kingdom has been the Government’scontroversial Illegal Migration Bill, which passed its third readinng in the House of Commons on 26 April 2023. The debate will continue as the bill faces furhter criticism in the House of Lords, in particular for some of the unintended side effects it may have.

If it becomes law as the Illegal Immigration Act, the legislation will provide for summary deportation from the UK to a third country of those who arrive by “illegal” means, principally those smuggled in by small boats or in cargo holds. This will affect those seeking asylum as well as economic migrants. The Government justifies this on the ground that those seeking asylum should first assert that right either from the country they are fleeing, or from the first country of refuge, options which most, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, find impractical, dangerous or impossible. So far it appears that Ruanda is the only country prepared, at a price, to act as host for these forcible deportations.

The UK seems set through this legislation on a continual challenge to the international law relating to asylum, even to the point of arrogating to itself the power to ignore certain rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, a new debate has arisen over the likely side-effects of the Illegal Migration Bill. A recent law, the Modern Slavery Act gives temporary protection against summary deportation to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Theresa May, a former Prime Minister and previously as Home Secretary (Internal) known to be tough on immigration, argued that the Illegal Migration Bill will take away the positive benefit of the Modern Slavery Act. Only those cooperating with a criminal investigation into their traffickers in very restricted circumstances may claim exemmption from summary deportation. The current text of the Illegal Immigration Bill, Theresa May argues, “will leave more people, more men, women and children, in slavery in the UK.”

Now that the present Italian Government is considering facilitating summary deportation, they should first consider how such measures can be designed to avoid the criminal activity of trafficking and slavery, which arises when the victims have to remain hidden.

Andrew Colvin