Inhumane Nationality and Borders Bill offers no real solutions to fix our broken immigration system
The Nationality and Borders Bill has completed Commons Committee stages. I had the dubious pleasure of engaging in the line-by-line scrutiny of what even the Home Office Minister conceded were “controversial” proposals.
This Bill would require the UK to breach the UN Refugee Convention, according to the UNHCR. The Home Office claims to know better – but expect years of legal action if Ministers fail to address the UN’s concerns.
It also breaks maritime law by requiring vessels to ignore people in distress and criminalises providing help at sea. Johnson’s government is actively seeking to prevent humans saving other humans from drowning. It is an inhumane and unworkable proposal deserving outright condemnation.
The Bill has led to attacks on the RNLI and, as it stands, could criminalise their crews
Sadly, it has already had an impact. One yachting association has told members to “stand off and report” rather than actively help anyone in distress. Ministers are responsible for putting people at greater risk of drowning.
The Bill has also led to attacks on the RNLI and, as it stands, could criminalise their crews. I tabled an amendment to prevent this monstrosity in the Committee. I highlighted that criminalising the RNLI could mean the Queen being asked to lock up her cousin, the Duke of Kent, the RNLI President. More Elizabeth I’s style than Elizabeth II. The government did concede that my amendment was necessary and intend to produce a replicate for Report Stage.
Ministers have had months to get this in order but prioritised culture war headlines instead, with dreadful consequences for courageous RNLI volunteers who have reported abuse as a result. One stated “there were some members of the public who saw us coming in with families, little children, four or five years old in this boat, and a small group of them were on the beach shouting f*** off back to France”.
Other parts of the Bill are equally offensive and embarrassing. Ministers have repeatedly claimed that they will “offshore” asylum seekers, i.e. processing claims in another country. Every time they have touted a country involved in plans, the countries have refuted it, including Ghana, Rwanda and Moldova. The only country admitting discussions with the Home Office is Albania, from where the UK received the second highest volume of successful asylum claims last year. Global Britain appears to have left Great Britain with fewer friends than North Korea.
The Bill also requires people to declare all information about an asylum claim upfront, with reduced scope to provide additional or supplemental evidence in later stages of an application. This is simply a tactic by Ministers to try and limit options for asylum seekers, but it means someone awaiting medical treatment and even diagnosis for PTSD, for example, being prevented from providing information. That Ministers are demanding complex conditions like PTSD present earlier than usual with magically faster diagnoses says a lot about the Cnut-ism entrenched in Johnson’s government.
Ministers are using this Bill to make outlandish claims and proposals that they know are undeliverable. The potential costs of resulting legal action could be astronomical and offer no real solutions to the genuine problems in the system. Even the Home Secretary admits the system is broken after 11 years of Conservative mishandling. Tackling delays, reducing the error rate, operating humanitarian visas and opening genuinely safe routes to the UK are all solutions in Ministers’ gift but don’t meet the preferred political agenda.
Of course, retaining international aid spending at 0.7 per cent might have helped prevent future crises, meaning less people undertaking dangerous routes, but that would merely be in line with Conservative manifesto commitments.
Only a fool would expect a Johnson government with an 80-seat majority to keep its promises.
Neil Coyle is the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and member of the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.