For the RNLI to save the life of an asylum seeker at peril at sea could be a criminal offence carrying a life sentence in the future

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Priti Patel posted this on Twitter last night:

I did some research on the Bill. Amongst the reading was this from Free Movement:

As advertised, some of the criminal offences connected to immigration are being toughened up.

On our reading of clause 37, it looks like any asylum seeker knowingly arriving without entry clearance or entering the UK without permission (“leave”) to enter will have committed an offence. If this reformed offence is actually enforced and prosecuted (unlike the overstayer offence, for example) it looks like we are talking about thousands of additional convictions every year and a significant growth in the prison population.

So, simply arriving to claim asylum is now an offence. That has to contravene our obligations under international conventions. I am shocked.

Clause 37 gets worse in some ways though

On “facilitation”, or assisting unlawful immigration, clause 37(4) appears to close off a defence currently relied upon by those prosecuted for piloting small boats across the Channel.

Helping an asylum seeker enter the UK will no longer need to be “for gain” to attract criminal liability. The core of the offence will read as follows:

A person commits an offence if–
(a) he knowingly and for gain facilitates the arrival or attempted arrival in, or the entry or attempted entry into, the United Kingdom of an individual, and
(b) he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the individual is an asylum-seeker.

It depends on how one interprets “facilitates”, but removing the stipulation about gain is an odd look for a Bill that professes to target organised crime. While someone working for an organisation that “aims to assist asylum-seekers” cannot be charged with this offence, someone who works for a more general-purpose charity like the RNLI and who helps an asylum seeker enter the UK may, on the face of it, be criminalised by this change.

The maximum sentence for the general assisting unlawful immigration offence is raised to life from 14 years by clause 38.

So, saving life at sea could now be a criminal offence. For simply doing what they have always done, the RNLI's volunteer crews could now face life imprisonment.

I have been a long time supporter of the RNLI. It is a passion inherited from my father and two grandfathers who served in the professional navy. I am deeply shocked by this move. I am shocked by the Bill as a whole. But to find that saving the life of an asylum seeker is now to be criminalised is profoundly shocking. What sort of mentality is required to create such a possibility?

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