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Governing by stunt: Johnson accused after revealing plans for electronic tags to track asylum seekers

© Joe Giddens/PA WirePrime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Home Office plans to electronically tag asylum seekers in a pilot scheme were condemned by campaigners yesterday.

The trial in England and Wales will see some people who arrive in the UK in small boats or in the back of lorries tagged, have to regularly report in person to authorities and may be subject to a curfew or excluded from certain locations.

It comes days after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg granted an injunction that stopped the deportation of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the new plans, saying it was essential that people could not simply “vanish” into the rest of the country.

He said: “This is a very, very generous, welcoming country. I am proud of it, but when people come here illegally, when they break the law, it is important we make that distinction.

“That is what we are doing with our Rwanda policy. That is what we are doing with making sure that asylum seekers can’t just vanish into the rest of the country.”

The UK Government hoped that sending them to Rwanda would deter people from crossing the Channel illegally. But a flight containing seven people was halted minutes before take-off on Tuesday by the European Court of Human Rights.

The tags and Rwanda plan have both been branded political gimmicks and are said to expose the Tories’ lack of a serious political response.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of “chasing headlines” with its plan to tag asylum seekers.

He said: “I absolutely want to see us clamp down and end the trafficking, the criminal gangs, that are running this. That requires a grown-up, serious response, working with the French authorities, and tracking down the gangs upstream.”

The Home Office said it “will not be deterred” by the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights and was planning for the next flight to Rwanda.

It said: “We will keep as many people in detention as the law allows but where a court orders that an individual due to be on Tuesday’s flight should be released, we will tag them where appropriate.”

But Scottish Refugee Council chief executive Sabir Zazai said the UK should abandon its “abhorrent” plan altogether. He said: “It’s a policy based on a fundamental lie. Seeking asylum is not a crime and does not deserve punishment.

“If the UK Government was truly interested in making sure people did not risk their lives on perilous journeys to safety, it would work to put truly safe routes to sanctuary in place.

“Just last summer, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel paid lip service to supporting the people of Afghanistan. But their government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is essentially sitting dormant and has brought almost nobody to safety. Instead, they are threatening Afghan nationals with deportation to Rwanda.

“A more humane way forward would include an asylum system which assesses claims in the country in which they are made, a more robust family reunion scheme and a commitment to resettling 10,000 people from across the world each year.”