25 April 2022

Home Office backs down on refugee pushbacks policy in the face of legal case

The government has withdrawn its controversial refugee pushbacks policy just over a week before a judicial review on the matter, brought by 4 organisations including PCS, was due to be heard in the High Court.

The policy authorised and encouraged Border Force officials, many of whom are PCS members, to stop vessels carrying migrants in UK waters and forcibly redirect them to return to France.

The 4 organisations – PCS, Care4Calais, Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture – had been granted permission by the court to challenge the Home Office policy of turning back small refugee boats in the English Channel, with the applications set down for a 3-day hearing on 3 May.

Following correspondence from the government legal department late last night, which confirmed that the Home Office has withdrawn the policy, the judicial review claims have now been withdrawn.

In its letter, the government legal department said that the policy and procedures which are the subject of the ongoing litigation are withdrawn and that the Ministry of Defence joint commander who is taking over Channel operations has not had permission to authorise the use of turnaround tactics. It also said that if a decision were taken to use turnaround tactics in the future, it would only be after a full consideration of all relevant matters.

The climbdown comes as the nationality and borders bill reaches its final stages in parliament where the House of Lords has twice rejected parts of the bill that would severely penalise refugees arriving in the UK without a visa, in line with their rights under the UNHCR Refugee Convention. Home secretary Priti Patel had repeatedly insisted that there was a legal basis for the pushback policy, despite introducing express powers to turn back boats in the nationality and borders bill on the basis that there was no such current legal power. 

Lives saved

PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka 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. 

PCS reiterates our call for the government to abandon their dangerous and reckless approach to asylum and immigration; and to negotiate with us on a humane process that allows for safe passage and protects both our members and refugees."