The Nationality and Borders Bill is a disgraceful and shameful piece of legislation. It was heavily criticised and amended in the Lords with support from members of all political parties. Despite the misgivings of a number of Conservative MPs, the government defeated all the amendments in the Commons.
The legislation flies in the face of the 1951 Refugee Convention to which this country was a founding signatory. This Convention, and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were a response to the refugee crisis that gripped Europe following the Second World War. At this very moment, as countries across Europe are once again having to act swiftly to help millions of refugees from Ukraine, this government is passing legislation to tear up its shared obligations and criminalise those fleeing war. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which employs over 35,000 personnel across 70 countries said this legislation makes the UK “one of the most anti-refugee countries in the world.”
The Bill will deny sanctuary to people dispossessed in the most brutal of circumstances and drag our international reputation into the gutter at the same time.
This part of the legislation is based on years of lies and slurs which the numbers simply do not support. The UK is 18th in the world in terms of asylum applications per head of population. Germany has taken in 800,000 Syrian refugees, Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million refugees of various nationalities. Our country is not facing a “flood” heading our way. What we do face is an incompetent Home Office which cannot deal with a fraction of the cases many of our European neighbours manage.
It is badly thought out and self-defeating. Not only does it encourage people trafficking by failing to establish safe routes for refugees, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has repeatedly warned that it also makes it harder to prosecute these traffickers. It will push more business the way of these ruthless criminals which they will be able to undertake with less risk.
Currently, thousands of refugees are in limbo in this country because the Home Office put in place rules which depended on reaching bilateral returns agreements with our European neighbours and then failed to do so, despite it being their “number one priority.” Millions are being spent in accommodation and subsistence with no end in sight.
However, the cost of the proposals to set up off-shore asylum processing centres will dwarf this, running into billions. They have brought condemnation from all sides, with Conservative MP and former minister Andrew Mitchell saying of them “Judged by the costs of Australian offshoring the British taxpayer would face unprecedented costs per asylum seeker. It would be much cheaper to put each one in the The Ritz and send all the under-18s to Eton.” David Davis MP described them as creating “a British Guantanamo Bay”. Unsurprisingly, no country has yet agreed to host a foreign-run facility which breaches international treaties, and the potential for human rights abuses, on their soil.
The Bill is also an attack on the rights of British citizens. It gives the Home Secretary the power to remove citizenship in secret, with no prior warning, and effectively deny any appeal. It is fundamental to justice that a person should have notice of charges against them and a fair opportunity to present a defence. This is a move befitting an authoritarian regime, not a mature democracy.
It has effectively put over 6 million people who have dual nationality or have been granted British Citizenship, including two in every five people from a non-white ethnic minority background, on notice. Not long after the Home Office attempted to justify this part of the Bill by saying “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right,” the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, tweeted “having a nationality is not a privilege – it’s a human right.” This right is protected by UN treaties to which the UK is party and is obliged to protect.
This Bill is unjust and inhumane. It attacks fundamental human rights, international treaties and diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It will now return to the Lords where I am in no doubt it will again be amended. When it returns to the Commons I will be ready once more to fight to remove the worst aspects of a deeply flawed and regressive piece of legislation.