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Lords Move To Block Government Breaking International Law With Illegal Migration Bill


4 min read

Peers in the House of Lords, including a former Tory immigration minister, have laid an amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill which if accepted, would prevent the government from breaching five international treaties signed since the Second World War.

They also warn that Britain’s reputation on the world stage could be in jeopardy if the government breaks international treaties in their attempts to tackle small boat crossings.

The Illegal Migration Bill was drawn up by the government earlier this year, and is currently making its way through the House of Lords after MPs voted it through the Commons with some minor concessions. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have repeatedly set out their desire to reduce illegal migration as a government priority. 

Labour and Conservative peers named on the amendment spelling out which international treaties the bill must comply with, including decades old laws as well as modern legislation on human trafficking, have told PoliticsHome that not protecting the agreements could lead international partners from being less willing to enter into arrangements with the UK in the future. 

The amendment aims to prevent anything in the new legislation conflicting wih the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees including the Protocol to that Convention;  the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness;  the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

As per Lords convention, the amendment was discussed and then withdrawn at the current committee stage, but both the Conservative and Labour signatories told PoliticsHome that they intend to bring it back at report stage, when it could be voted on by peers and subsequently passed to the House of Commons.

“We're going to bring it back at report stage,”  Conservative Lord Timothy Kirkhope, who served as immigration minister between 1995 and 1997, told PoliticsHome. 

“I think the House of Lords will vote in favour of it.” 

Kirkhope said that “all” the peers were asking the government to do is “confirm that they will not break international agreements, and they refuse to accept that amendment”. 

If the government does not explicitly promise to keep to international treaties such as these, Kirkhope suggested, “we will never get another international agreement signed”. 

“Everything that's relevant here is how we are perceived by international partners,” he explained. 

“If we are perceived as a country that falls back on agreements, that we give priority to domestic law over international agreements and ignore international agreements, we will never get another international agreement signed because no one will sign up to us because they won't trust us at all.” 

Labour’s signatory on the amendment, former shadow attorney general Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, believes that the bill in its current form would mean the “secretary of state is under a duty to remove someone regardless of their persecution," which she felt was "contrary to a number of very key linchpins" of the stated treaties. 

"What we're trying to do is to override that duty in circumstances where it would put us in breach of international law," she explained.

"Those are the conventions we've identified as being the key conventions that would be violated by this legislation unamended."

Chakrabarti agreed with Kirkhope's view that not protecting these treaties could impact how Britain is viewed by other nations. 

She pointed to Sunak’s trip to the United States this week, where international cooperation on AI governance is reportedly high on the agenda.

“Why should anybody agree to that on the world stage, if we won't honour the linchpin treaties that we played such a huge part in drawing up after World War Two?," she added.

The bill in its current form would curtail the rights of asylum seekers if they arrive in the UK not by a safe or legal route. 

New arrivals will be removed to a ‘third’ country and banned from ever returning to the UK or claiming citizenship.

The bill has faced criticism from rights groups and peers that it could fail to protect victims of trafficking, children, and people with protected characteristics such as pregnant women and disabled people. 

PoliticsHome has previously reported that the bill was set to face "ferocious scrutiny" in the Lords as they continue to go through the detail line by line. 


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