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Nationality and Borders Bill - what we learned from the Second Reading

July 27, 2021 5:04 PM
By Janet King - LD4SOS Council Member

The Nationality and Borders Bill and why all Liberal Democrats should be concerned.

In her at times illogical introduction to the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill Home Secretary, Priti Patel, informed the House of Commons that 'the British people have had enough of open borders and uncontrolled immigration' thus using the arguments that won the Brexit vote yet again. If any MP believes that the UK borders are uncontrolled they must be unaware of the £millions which are spent by the border agencies to restrict entry to this country.

During the debate the new Bill was strongly criticised by many MPs including Conservatives like Theresa May, whose own time at the Home Office disappointed us all with its extension of the hostile environment.

Wera Hobhouse's speech during the debate pointed out that the one thing which the new Bill does not do is to provide more safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK. Instead it will treat asylum seekers more harshly and continue the present system of making them wait for months and years before getting a decision on their claims, not allowing them to take paid work whilst they wait and forcing them to live on less than forty pounds per week.

Whilst the Bill appears to favour safe and legal routes through relocation schemes organised by UNHCR and local community sponsorship it makes no provision for such and in answer to a Parliamentary question last week from Tim Farron the immigration minister could not say how many, if any, refugees would be coming via these routes. Just over 20,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled since 2015 but Liberal Democrat policy asks for at least 10,000 per annum under the proposed wider relocation scheme .

Following the closure of a number of Immigration Removal Centres (IRC) eg Campsfield there were some real hopes that arbitrary immigration detention was reducing and could eventually return to the originally intended use of the IRCs ie for very short pre-departure accommodation for those who were about to be deported or removed. The new Bill threatens asylum seekers with accommodation in reception centres, prison sentences and those who arrive 'illegally' with refusal simply on the grounds that they unfairly 'jumped the queue' by arriving irregularly. The UK Home Secretary may be unaware that many refugees, often young men, are not seen as being sufficiently vulnerable to gain a place on a resettlement scheme even if the rest of the family including their parents and siblings are accepted. They have therefore no choice but to risk an arduous journey by plane, train and on foot to reach the UK. It is not a journey they would want to make.

Under the UN Refugee Convention the right to make a claim for asylum is protected and there is no such designation as an illegal asylum seeker. The clauses in the Bill which would exclude those who enter the UK irregularly from making a claim risk contravening the UN Refugee Convention, which has been in place for 70 years . It is surely likely that sufficient MPs will vote against them to defeat this part of the Bill?

The Refugee Council has produced a very useful briefing, which would be helpful in local campaigning.

Please let your local MP know how strongly you feel about the Bill, which is discriminatory and far from fair.