WREXHAM’S MP has been strongly criticised for remarks she has made about people trying to cross the English Channel in small boats.

The number of refugees and migrants seeking to enter the UK via the busy shipping lane has recently increased, sparking a debate over how to address the situation.

The Conservative MP, who was voted in at December’s General Election, issued a statement on Tuesday, August 18 describing the crossings as “unacceptable”.

Ms Atherton claimed it represented “flagrant violations of our immigration law by economic migrants and human-trafficking gangs” and called for the armed forces to be used to prevent people from arriving.

The Leader:

Sarah Atherton has been Wrexham's MP since December 2019

Her comments have been condemned by immigration law specialists, who said her comments were “misleading” and “counterproductive”.

They have also sparked an impassioned response from the manager of a Wrexham football team, which brings migrants, refugees and asylum seekers together to help them form new friendships.

Delwyn Derrick, who runs Bellevue FC, said her statement contradicted the club’s aims.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s worded in a way to pander to people who don’t want more foreign integration.

“For me personally, I’m incredibly proud of the heritage and history of Wrexham and that multi-cultural diversity that we have.

“It’s putting up more barriers than it’s going to take down. As the local MP, her responsibility before the party political line is to her electorate – the people who put her in that position.” 

Mr Derrick, who was awarded the title of BBC Wales Unsung Hero last year for using sport to bring people together, has written a stern rebuke to the MP’s comments.

In a post on the football club’s Twitter account, he said Ms Atherton did not speak for everyone in Wrexham and people should be made to feel welcome in the community.

He also accused her wanting to see those crossing the channel treated “as a nuisance and a problem”.

In her statement Ms Atherton said the UK Government was preparing to introduce a points based immigration system similar to that in Australia upon leaving the EU.

She claimed it would ensure no-one could “cut the queue” to settle in the UK, adding that the government had “no obligation whatsoever” to grant refugee status to those arriving from France.

She said: “Returning migrants who have reached the UK is not easy, as the Prime Minister has acknowledged, due to a legal framework owing to our previous EU membership, which we are still bound by until the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

“This framework places undue power in the hands of unaccountable human rights lawyers who do not have our country’s best interests at heart.

“Until the transition period ends and we can once again reassert our sovereignty over asylum and immigration matters we must stop these boats from reaching British waters.

“UK Border Force should receive whatever assistance is required from HM Armed Forces in this endeavour.

“It is time for tough words to be matched with tough actions so that fairness may be restored to our immigration system, and the constituents of Wrexham may feel secure in the knowledge that this is a government which finally takes concerns about immigration seriously.”

The Leader:

Ms Atherton posted a copy of her statement to social media branding Dover boat crossings 'unacceptable'

Her claims have been countered by immigration and human rights law specialists.

Dan Sohege of the human rights advocacy group Stand for All said: “Ms Atherton is playing politics with peoples’ lives and displaying, either accidentally or deliberately, a staggering level of ignorance as to the complex issues which she has decided to comment on.

“Not only is her letter full of inaccuracies, but her very suggestions would lead the UK to violate the fundamental principles of human rights law and open the UK up to international legal action at a time when it is trying to demonstrate that it can be part of the wider international community without being an EU member state.”

Colin Yeo, a barrister specialising in immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, said the new points based system would have no impact on asylum seekers or refugees.

He also described the number of people currently coming to the UK as “low” and beneath the level being seen in France and Germany.

He said: “The UK does have legal obligations under the Refugee Convention because there is no obligation on a genuine refugee to claim asylum in a safe country through which he or she passes.

“The end of transition will make it harder, not easier, to return asylum seekers to France because the French have got to agree to that and we are leaving the current legal agreement, called the Dublin Regulation, at the end of 2020.”

He added: “There needs to be some serious thought into how to prevent people risking their lives in this way and some grown up negotiations with the French and the European Union.

“Misleading contributions like this which are simply wrong in legal terms are counterproductive.”

In response to the criticism, Ms Atherton said she understood it was an “emotive issue” and had often helped those seeking asylum in the UK.

However, the MP appeared to suggest people currently crossing the Channel were not doing so for legitimate reasons.

She said: “I have been inundated with emails from constituents condemning this violation of our immigration law and the risk to human life.

“Nine months ago, the people of Wrexham voted decisively in favour of the Conservative immigration policy and putting an end to the UK open-door system.

“What is now being introduced is a sensible Australian-style points-based immigration system, ensuring people who are legitimate asylum seekers, fleeing persecution, can come here safely to live and work.

“What we are seeing is an abuse of the system, which is blocking the way for those in genuine need of asylum.”