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The cynical Immigration Bill shows how ministers will clap for carers before taking away their rights

The Immigration Bill gets its second reading in the Commons this week.

4 min read

So many of the key workers who are now keeping our society running will be hit by this rotten bill

In the middle of a pandemic, when tens of thousands of people are dying in our hospitals and care homes, and millions are worrying about their livelihoods, the Tories have chosen their priority: attacking migrants.

Today, the Immigration Bill is being rushed to Parliament. The vote was only announced late last week, leaving little time to scrutinise and organise. If it passes, it will mean the biggest expansion of border controls in our recent history.

The Bill ends free movement with Europe. Rather than specify what our new immigration laws would look like, it gives the Home Secretary sweeping powers to rewrite them with little accountability to Parliament.

Priti Patel indicated her intended policies back in February. Her plans will slam the door in the faces of people who want to come and work in this country, but whose occupations are deemed “unskilled” because they are underpaid.

This includes so many of the key workers who are now keeping our society running, from care workers to hospital cleaners to delivery drivers. It’s cynical hypocrisy to clap for them on Thursday only to vote their rights away the following Monday.

Last week, Priti Patel confirmed she would not be scrapping NHS charges for migrants, despite the fact that foreign-born residents already fund our health service with their taxes. The Government is also refusing to end NHS data sharing with the Home Office, despite evidence that it stops people from seeking help when they need to. Nor is the Government following countries like Spain which has released those held in detention centres to prevent the spread of the virus.

Bringing back this toxic Bill right now only confirms what we’d already learned: that the Tories care more about pursuing their racist agenda than they do about saving lives.

There is a reason for that: foreigners are a convenient scapegoat for problems caused by the Government and their friends in big business. We know it is not Polish nurses or Romanian cleaners who are to blame for the overstretched state of the NHS or for the housing crisis, but decades of privatisation and cuts. It is not immigrant workers who push down wages but exploitative employers and the legislation that enables them, with weakened workers’ rights and the most draconian anti-union laws in Europe.

Expanding border controls only hands more power to bosses: workers are less likely to join a union and defend themselves if losing their job can lead to deportation. Worse, the temporary guest worker schemes which the government plans to expand in place of free movement have already been slammed by experts for opening the door to hyperexploitation and modern slavery.

So I will, of course, be voting against the Bill today. I will also continue to advocate for Labour’s alternative of solidarity and equality, which members and trade unions approved by a landslide at our last conference. We must stand not only for defending existing freedom of movement but also levelling up free movement rights for non-Europeans. We must campaign to end all “hostile environment” policies, scrap the barbaric “no recourse to public funds” rule which leaves many migrants homeless and destitute, and close all detention centres. 

The rich can already move freely and settle nearly anywhere in the world without fear. It is working class people who suffer most from repressive immigration controls. As a Labour MP, it is my job to stand up for all workers, wherever they were born.

But our movement is not just MPs. It’s ordinary people in communities and workplaces across the country. We must all offer the solidarity and compassion that this government won’t. And whatever the outcome of the vote on this Bill, let’s make our opposition today the start of a campaign both inside and outside Parliament.

A campaign that champions working-class solidarity over scapegoating, which sends the message that to beat low pay and exploitation we must build unions, not borders. A campaign that can not only repeal this rotten Bill but tear down the entire regime of racist policies currently inflicted on migrants in this country.

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