BORDER Force staff could go on strike over Priti Patel’s “morally reprehensible” plans to turn back dinghies in the English Channel, a trade union has warned.
The Home Office is facing legal action over proposals to turn small boats around at sea, a tactic campaigners warn could put lives at risk.
The UK Government is considering options to tackle the rising number of people attempting to cross the channel, including inviting businesses to a non-disclosure, agreement-bound meeting in the hope of hearing “innovative ideas”.
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary has called in scientific advisers in a bid to use X-rays and other medical checks on asylum seekers to stop what she described as grown men “masquerading as children” on their applications.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), whose members include around 80% of the Border Force officials who would be tasked with implementing the “pushbacks”, and the charity Care4Calais have filed an application for judicial review on the pushback policy.
They intend to challenge the lawfulness of redirecting boats out of UK waters and back to France.
The union said the policy “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 a strike and officials refusing to push back boats.
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 proposed policy deprioritises the UK’s 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.”
A Home Office spokesman 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.”