Rishi Sunak told Britons there is “absolutely nothing racist” about wanting secure borders, following criticism of his plan to tackle illegal immigration.
The former chancellor said he knew what racism was because he had himself been a victim of it - and claimed those who came to the UK legally also want to see action to crack down on those who do not.
But Liz Truss’s team claimed his immigration plans could breach domestic human rights law.
Mr Sunak suggested that illegal immigrants could be housed off-shore in cruise ships, but Team Truss said the use of cruise ships would likely be illegal because it could amount to “arbitrary detention”.
One Sunak ally hit back, saying: “Good to see Remainer Truss on the side of human rights lawyers.”
The Foreign Secretary also promoted her plans for immigration, including sending more illegal migrants to countries such as Rwanda.
And she said she would look again at ways to turn small boats back across the Channel - a proposal which was blocked by Boris Johnson.
At the weekend, Mr Sunak committed to an annual cap on the number of refugees coming to Britain and committed himself to the controversial Rwanda scheme.
Law abiding citizens are dismayed when they see boat after boat full of illegal immigrants coming from the safe country of France with our sailors and coastguards seemingly powerless to stop them.
Read my 🔟 point plan for illegal immigration here: https://t.co/7BnZo0MvxP pic.twitter.com/fLFXsMq49d
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 24, 2022
In a video to promote his immigration plan, Mr Sunak said: “I know what racism is: I’ve experienced it myself.
“So I want to be clear with you all - there is absolutely nothing racist about wanting Britain to have secure borders that work.
“In fact, those immigrants who came here legally are the first to say: ‘We played by the rules; why should other people get away with breaking them?’.”
But one Whitehall source dismissed the ex-chancellor’s plans as “fantasy politics”, saying he had rarely raised the issue of immigration in Cabinet.
Speaking to The Telegraph, the source said: “This is ‘fairytale politics’ from a former chancellor who refused to give the Home Office the resources they needed when they asked for it.
“Sunak dragged his heels over the Rwanda partnership from the get-go and played it off against the PM over his own political priorities.
“These ideas might make good headlines but they are at best without any substance or detail and at worse illegal and won’t make any difference to border control.”
Ms Truss’s team said the use of cruise ships would likely be illegal under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
They claimed it will ultimately end up creating prison ships in areas that are in need of tourism and investment. And they said it was unclear how the proposed refugee quotas would work in practice, adding: “Proposals must be deliverable and grounded in reality, not simply warm words.”
Every year thousands and thousands of people come into the UK illegally.
Often we don’t know who they are, where they’re from and why they are here.
These are not bad people, but it makes a mockery of our system and it must stop.
Watch below ⬇️ sign up https://t.co/3cXn1rFhca pic.twitter.com/gXjtsGqdXK
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 24, 2022
But Mr Sunak’s campaign hit back, saying: “Rishi is clear he will do whatever is legally necessary to ensure adults who come to this country illegally have no route to asylum.”
Questioned on his immigration policies by Sky News on Sunday, Mr Sunak was unable to give clear assurances that his plans to tackle illegal migration would be legal,
He said it was important to be “very honest” about the challenges that European laws have on Britain’s ability to “grapple with this problem”.
Asked about the cruise ship plan, he said that the Scottish government had considered the idea. The Netherlands has also looked at it.
“I’ve said that we need to look at all creative solutions to make sure that we have the places we need to detain refugees and ensure that we can process them as quickly as possible,” he said.
“And I’m prepared to look at novel solutions. Indeed, Scotland and other countries have also looked at this. We need to tackle this problem creatively because it is a big challenge.”
‘Legal and controlled’
His 10-point plan included a commitment to a narrower definition of who qualifies for asylum compared to that from the ECHR, with enhanced powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal migrants.
Mr Sunak also promised to give Parliament control over who comes to the UK by creating an annual cap on the number of refugees accepted each year, albeit one that can be changed in the case of sudden emergencies.
He said: “Our immigration system is broken and we have to be honest about that. Whether you believe that migration should be high or low, we can all agree that it should be legal and controlled.”
A source on Team Truss said: “It is unclear how his proposed refugee quotas will work - will he include the 20 to 30,000 that have already arrived illegally across the channel so far this year?”
Miss Truss promised to increase the UK’s frontline Border Force by 20 per cent and double the Border Force Maritime staffing levels.
The Foreign Secretary said: “We need to break the cycle of these appalling gangs and stop people taking dangerous journeys across the Channel.
“As prime minister, I am determined to see the Rwanda policy through to full implementation as well as exploring other countries where we can work on similar partnerships.
“I’ll make sure we have the right levels of force and protection at our borders. I will not cower to the ECHR and its continued efforts to try and control immigration policy.”
A source close to Ms Truss said: “As Foreign Secretary, Liz worked closely with Priti Patel to formulate the generation-defining Rwanda policy.
“As prime minister, she will do whatever it takes to protect our borders. She’s been frustrated with the ECHR and its mission creep. She is prepared to take a tougher stance and deliver the reforms required so the ECHR works for Britain.”
Truss backer Tom Pursglove said: “I know Liz gets it, as she’s worked with me on it.
“No simple answers, but this is the credible continuation of the existing New Plan for Immigration, with clear next steps to progress the meaningful change already underway to control our borders and end the small boat crossings.”
Sir Robert Buckland, the Welsh Secretary and a Sunak supporter, said the former chancellor’s proposals were “humane”.
He told Sky News: “I think it is a very common sense and pragmatic approach to a problem that has been around for longer than we care to remember.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, tweeted:
Dismal to see Sunak/Truss competing to extend an unworkable, unethical, unaffordable, high fraud risk Rwanda scheme that will make trafficking worse.
Instead of tackling criminal trafficking gangs they are just ramping up rhetoric against refugees. Britain is better than this
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) July 24, 2022