PRITI Patel has set out the UK Government’s controversial new laws to tackle illegal immigration and reform the asylum system.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which was laid before the Commons this afternoon, will provide tougher powers to Border force officials, enable the UK to send migrants crossing the Channel back to France or out of British waters and increase the maximum sentence for people coming to the country unlawfully from six months to four years.

It also sets out plans to allow the government to take asylum seekers to a ‘safe third country’ while their applications for asylum are processed, and would hand those caught trafficking people to the UK sentences of up to life imprisonment, rather than the current maximum of 14 years.

Critics say the plans are cruel, “nasty” and could see thousands of people who would have had a right to claim asylum in the UK turned away.

However the Home Office has insisted the reforms are necessary, with the number people attempting to come to the UK across the Channel in 2020 reaching a record high.

According to official statistics from March this year there are 109,000 asylum claims currently in the system, with 52,000 still awaiting an initial decision

More than 60 per cent of the claims were made by people who came to the country illegally, the Home Office says, either by small boats, lorries or without visas.

The new legislation, if passed, would allow the use of “reasonable force” by border officials to get the small boats to turn round and leave UK waters, sending them back to other nations' seas, such as France.

However this is dependent on an agreement being made between the UK and France, or other nations, and negotiations are still ongoing.

The SNP's Shadow Home Secretary Stuart McDonald MP said the bill represented a “dark day” for the country.

He said: “The Tory government's Nationality and Borders Bill is absolutely abhorrent – a dark day that sees the UK ripping up the Refugee Convention and trashing its previous history of providing a place of refuge.

"The warnings could not be clearer - vulnerable people and refugees seeking safety will now be treated as criminals, cruelly turned back, and even sent to offshore detention facilities.

"Refugees will be faced with insecurity, poverty and split apart from their families like never before. Rather than recognising the real harm this Bill will inflict, the Tory government is instead living up to its nasty party tag.”

Robina Qureshi, who runs charity Positive Action in Housing, said the proposed legislation was “nothing more than a xenophobic, anti-refugee bill that will cost misery to tens of thousands of people and pointless billions to administer.”

She added: “The UK will be setting fire to its international obligations, effectively committing crimes against humanity, turning away those in need of safety and treating them as criminals. The 1951 refuge convention will be effectively torn up and history will shame us.

“The human rights abuses of genuine refugees will be hidden from public scrutiny; more will self-harm or attempt suicide as they are detained long term; and many more refugees will drown on British shores trying to get here."