Border Force officials could strike over 'reprehensible' boat pushback plans

Border Force officials could go on strike over Priti Patel’s ‘morally reprehensible’ plans to turn back people crossing the English Channel in dinghies, a union has said.

The PCS union suggested the ‘pushbacks’ policy risks lives and may break international law. 

The Home Office is now facing legal action after the union teamed up with a refugee charity to challenge the plan to turn small boats around at sea.

The news comes as figures show 28,300 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats in 2021, three times the number in 2020. 

In November, at least 27 people drowned in the deadliest crossing on record, including pregnant women and children.

The PCS, whose members include around 80% of the Border Force officials who would be tasked with carrying out the ‘pushbacks’, and the charity Care4Calais have filed an application for judicial review on the policy.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said it ‘contravenes international law and is morally reprehensible’, and could expose Border Force officials to risk of prosecution.

Even if the court application is unsuccessful, the union has not ruled out industrial action and said officials could refuse to carry out the pushbacks.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘The legality of the pushbacks policy is in serious question, and it is right that the court decides whether it is unlawful to turn back Channel boats.

‘We cannot have a situation where our members could be open to potential civil and criminal action for implementing a policy that they do not agree with and know is not safe.

‘Although we are hoping for a positive outcome from the legal proceedings, people should be in no doubt PCS strongly opposes this policy, on moral and humanitarian grounds, and we will not rule out industrial action to prevent it being carried out.’

Clare Moseley, founder of the refugee charity Care4Calais, said the ‘pushbacks’ policy ‘risks opening the gates to the horrific scenes we are seeing in the Mediterranean’. 

She said the UK has a duty under domestic and international law to save lives at sea.

‘It is for good reason that this duty is a cornerstone of International maritime law.

‘If eroded, I fear it will enable the UK to devalue lives at sea,’ Ms Moseley said.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary has called in scientific advisers in a bid to use X-rays and other medical checks on asylum seekers suspected of lying about their age on their applications.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘As part of our ongoing operational response and to prevent further loss of life at sea, we continue to test a range of safe and legal options to stop small boats making this dangerous and unnecessary journey.

‘These all comply and are delivered in accordance with both domestic and international law.

‘Our New Plan for Immigration will also overhaul the broken asylum system and reduce many of the historic pull factors.’

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