MPs have been considering amendments from the House of Lords on tthe Nationality and Borders Bill.
This bill has been introduced against the backdrop of an asylum and immigration system that is simply not fit for purpose.
The Government is completely out of step with public opinion. The British people want and deserve a system that is fair, compassionate, and orderly, as has been made clear by the fact that more than 150,000 households have signed up to house refugees fleeing the horrors of Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine.
UNHCR says this Bill undermines the Refugee Convention which the UK helped to draft in the wake of the Second World War. Countries across Europe are stepping up to support the refugees displaced by an international crisis in Ukraine, and yet this Government is pushing ahead with legislation that undermines the Convention that binds us all together.
However, far from meeting the challenges that our immigration and asylum system faces, I fear the Bill actively makes the situation worse. It proposes unworkable solutions that will cost the taxpayer and it undermines international humanitarian conventions at a time when cooperation is needed more than ever. I have therefore opposed this Bill at every opportunity.
The Bill makes it harder to prosecute traffickers and tackle modern slavery. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has repeatedly warned that it makes it harder to prosecute vile criminals who smuggle and exploit people. Meanwhile, the Government is still refusing to put into statute crucial support for victims.
We need strong security cooperation and intelligence-sharing with France and other European neighbours to crack down on criminal smuggler gangs. Without sophisticated, cross-border cooperation on security, criminal smugglers will be let off the hook.
The Government rejected Labour’s amendments criminalising the advertising of smuggling on social media, while also failing to introduce any safe and legal routes. They are focused on headlines rather than the serious collaboration with other countries needed to stop dangerous boat crossings.
They also want to start processing offshore, but all the evidence shows that it would be hugely expensive, ineffective, and inhumane. Australia has tried to operate a system like this and is spending a billion dollars a year dealing with 300 migrants. This is not a sustainable solution.
Without safe, legal routes for family reunion and sanctuary, those with family in the UK can end up being exploited by criminal gangs. But the Government is opposing Lords amendments that establish safe, legal routes through resettlement and family reunion.
Over a year ago, Home Office ministers said their number one priority was to negotiate bilateral returns agreements with European neighbours, yet they have got only one in place. Since the ending of the Dublin agreement, the Government has failed to establish either safe return agreements or family reunion agreements with our nearest European neighbours.
The Bill recently returned to the House of Commons for consideration of amendments made in the House of Lords. These included amendments to:
- Remove the differential treatment of refugees based on their method of arrival in the UK
- Remove measures relating to proposed offshore processing of asylum seekers
- Ensure that nothing in the Bill does not comply with the Refugee Convention
- Commit the Government to resettling at least 10,000 refugees a year
- Introduce a new family reunion route for unaccompanied children and others, who currently have no safe and legal way of reuniting with family members in the UK
- Remove a new power for the Home Secretary to remove someone’s citizenship without notice
I supported all these amendments and more, but the Government rejected them, and they were removed from the Bill.
The reality of this is that the Government has made it a criminal offence for Ukrainian families to arrive in the UK without the right papers with a penalty of up to four years in prison. More than three million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion, many of them children and elderly people. They need support and solidarity from all countries. The Home Office has already been far too slow to help; the Nationality and Borders Bill makes that much worse.