Border Force officials could strike over plans to turn back dinghies in the English Channel

Border troop officials could go on strike over Priti Patel’s “morally reprehensible” plans to reject inflatables in the English Channel, a union said.

The Home Office is facing legal action over proposals to turn small boats at sea, a tactic that warned could endanger lives.

The news comes after figures compiled by the PA News Agency showed that 28,300 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats in 2021, tripling the number for 2020.

The government continues to consider various options for solving the problem and has invited companies to a confidential, negotiated meeting in the hopes of hearing “innovative ideas”.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which includes around 80% of the border guards involved in the implementation of pushbacks, and the charity Care4Calais have filed for a judicial review of the pushback policy.

They intend to contest the legality of diversion of boats out of UK waters and back into France.

The union said the policy violates international law and is morally reprehensible and could expose border police officers to criminal prosecution.

Although the judicial request was unsuccessful, the union has not ruled out industrial action and officials who refuse to carry out the pushbacks.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The legality of the pushback policy is seriously in question and it is right for the court to determine whether it is illegal to return Channel boats.

“We cannot have a situation where our members can be open to potential civil and criminal action if they are implementing a policy that they disagree with and know is not safe.

“While we hope for a positive outcome in the legal process, people should be clearly opposed to this policy on moral and humanitarian grounds, and we will not rule out industrial action to prevent it.”

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais refugee agency, said: “The proposed directive removes the UK’s obligation under national and international law to save lives at sea.

“This duty is a cornerstone of international law of the sea for good reason. If it does erode, I fear it will enable Britain to devalue life at sea.

“It risks opening the gates to the horrific scenes we see in the Mediterranean,” she added.

The Ministry of the Interior continues to examine options to stop the crossings of thousands of people from France aboard small boats.

Despite the Home Secretary’s promise to make crossings a “rare phenomenon” by spring 2020, more than 36,000 people have managed to reach the UK in the past two years.

Facing another year with thousands of crossings, the Ministry of the Interior invited companies to an event later this month in hopes of gathering new ideas for solving the crisis.

Participants will be bound by a nondisclosure agreement and then invited to “share their innovative ideas, new approaches and possible solutions that can be legally used in the UK”.

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