Jeremy Hunt did not rule out the prospect of children being detained under the Government’s latest plans to address asylum seekers arriving in small boats.
The chancellor said “special arrangements” would be made for children but would not be drawn on whether the Government will overturn arrangements which seek to prevent children being detained in relation to immigration cases.
He said questions on specifics would be for the Home Secretary.
Reports in The Observer and Sunday Times said the Illegal Migration Bill could see children and families detained and deported, effectively reversing a ban put in place by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
The measures could face challenge from Tory backbenchers when the Bill goes to the Commons for its second reading on Monday, according to reports.
Hunt was asked on BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg whether children might be detained under the Government’s plans for asylum seekers, and if a ban on children being detained stands.
He said: “We are making special arrangements for children as the Home Secretary outlined.
“Public consent for legal migration depends on dealing with the unfairness of illegal migration and that is why it is so important that we tackle this issue head-on.”
Asked again if he is ruling out a return to detaining children, the chancellor said: “The Home Secretary has made clear that we are going to treat children differently under these arrangements and I think you’ll have to talk to her about precisely how that happens.”
Tory former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland told GB News he did not think it was “right” to “treat children in that inhumane way”, while ex-home secretary Priti Patel – herself seen as a hardliner on immigration – is reportedly considering a potentially explosive intervention in the Commons about the issue.
The Government’s plans, announced on Tuesday, would see migrants who arrive through unauthorised means deported and given a lifetime ban from returning.
Anyone who crosses the Channel in a small boat would only be eligible for asylum in a “safe” third country, such as Rwanda.
Powers would be granted to detain migrants for 28 days without recourse for bail or judicial review, and then indefinitely for as long as there is a “reasonable prospect” of removal.
It also places a duty on the Home Secretary to remove illegal entrants and it will “radically narrow the number of challenges and appeals that can suspend removal”.
Outlining the plans in the Commons, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “Only those under 18, medically unfit to fly or at a real risk of serious and irreversible harm – an exceedingly high bar – in the country we are removing them to will be able to delay their removal.”