Priti Patel Asks Tory MPs Not To Back Amendment To Landmark Immigration Bill
Home secretary Priti Patel has privately messaged Tory MPs as government concerns mount over the likelihood of large rebellions on votes around the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is due to return to Parliament next week.
A sizeable number of Conservative MPs have pledged their support for two Tory backbench amendments to the government’s landmark immigration bill, both of which seek to make it easier for Hong Kong nationals to live and work in the UK.
An amendment tabled by former cabinet minister Damian Green seeks to expand the scope of Hongkongers eligible for the government’s British National Overseas Visa Scheme.
The scheme currently enables Hongkongers who either registered as a British National Overseas (BNO) or who had no other citizenships prior to July 1997, to live in Britain on a bespoke five-year visa, which can also pave the way to permanent residency.
Green’s amendment would allow any person from Hong Kong with at least one parent who is a BNO to be eligible for the visa scheme.
A separate amendment, tabled by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, seeks to enable all former British-Hong Kong service personnel, alongside their spouses and dependents, to have a right of abode in the UK.
The government has not explicitly ruled out the Rosindell amendment. A Home Office spokesperson told PoliticsHome the department “understand the strength of feeling on this issue and are looking at what more can be done to support those who served”.
However, officials are concerned by the growing number of prominent Conservative backbenchers adding their names to the Green amendment, which government confirmed to PoliticsHome it will not be supporting.
On Thursday this week Priti Patel sent private messages to Tory MPs supporting Green, inviting them to discuss why his amendment is unviable.
In the messages the Home Secretary expresses concern that the proposed change would allow people around the world to claim settlement rights regardless of where they live.
So far 46 MPs representing the Conservative Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP have signed up to the Green amendment.
Prominent Tory backbenchers and former secretaries of state including Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox and Tom Tugendhat are among those backing the move.
The Rosindell amendment has also attracted widespread support from prominent MPs across the house.
"Conservatives recognise the obligations this country has to the people of Hong Kong, regardless of age,” a spokesperson for Conservative Friends of Hong Kong told PoliticsHome.
“That's why so many of our Parliamentary caucus have signed the Green amendment: as a clear signal to the people of Hong Kong that we have not forgotten those obligations."
Luke de Pulford, Coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, told PoliticsHome he believes “the UK has done nothing to hold China to account for tearing up our agreement over Hong Kong”.
“Instead, the government seems to believe that our ‘lifeboat’ scheme is enough,” De Pulford said.
“Our immigration scheme for Hongkongers doesn’t even apply to those who need it most. A lifeboat scheme isn’t much good if you can’t get on the lifeboat.
“Extending the scheme is the very least we can do and doesn’t go nearly far enough to honoring the promises we made to the people of Hong Kong, which lie in tatters.”
Potential rebellions on the Nationality and Borders Bill signify growing discontent in the Conservative Party with the state of relations between government and the Chinese Communist Party. MPs including Tugendhat and Duncan Smith have called for the Foreign Office to take a tougher approach to China, due to strong concerns around security and human rights.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are extremely grateful to those who served in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps and Hong Kong Royal Naval Service. Through the BN(O) route to settlement, many of those who served, and their dependents and spouses are eligible to come here but we understand the strength of feeling on this issue and are looking at what more can be done to support those who served.
“The BN(O) route is grounded in the UK’s obligations to those who elected to retain ties to the UK by obtaining BN(O) status. We do not have any plans to expand the eligibility requirements. There are other routes available for people ineligible for the BN(O) route such as through the points-based system or the underused Youth Mobility Scheme.”
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