The Immigration Plan and the ‘Sovereign Borders’ Bill

10 May 2021: Rethinking Security: Article by David Forbes

As the UK Government prepares to announce its new Sovereign Borders Bill in parliament, David Forbes argues that the very idea of ‘sovereign borders’ is false and ignores both the reality of international legal commitments and the disastrous precedent of Australia’s flirtation with the concept.

The British people were invited to respond to a Consultation about Home Secretary Priti Patel’s New Plan for Immigration over the six weeks to 06 May. This has proved to be a highly contentious process, with almost 200 refugee, human rights, legal and faith groups publicly condemning the process, not least for excluding the perspective of refugees.

None of us were invited to challenge the title ‘Sovereign Borders’ attached to the post-Consultation Bill which will be announced in this week’s Queen’s Speech. Nor were we invited to question whether “sovereign borders” is an appropriate concept to apply to complex issues of migration and asylum which are defined in customary international law.

Sovereign Borders, as some will remember, is the title of the Australian initiative to turn back boat people from its territorial waters starting in 2013. It is perhaps no accident that Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister of that day, has been appointed as a special adviser on post-Brexit trade arrangements.

It is also no coincidence that a similarly-structured (but much more limited) Consultation was held last year on the 2025 UK Border Strategy. This was in relation principally to trade and customs arrangements, but not excluding migration. There, in his foreword as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove prefaced his strategy with the words, “now that Britain has regained full sovereignty over its borders”.

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