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The Nationality and Borders Bill is littered with measures that will breach human rights

3 min read

Parliament considers the Nationality and Borders Bill today in the shadow of the tragic deaths of 27 people who drowned as they tried to cross the Channel. Our asylum and immigration system doesn’t work. And it costs lives.

Because of the wide-ranging impact of the proposals in the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is undertaking ongoing scrutiny of its the impact on human rights.

What we have found so far leaves us deeply concerned. The government’s stated aim is to introduce measures to make the UK an unattractive destination for people attempting to come here without a visa or leave to remain and deter the human traffickers who seek to profit from their desperation. But the Bill is littered with measures that will breach human rights.

If the Home Secretary cannot demonstrate how enforcement powers can operate in a manner compatible with human rights law they should be scrapped

New powers for the border force to “pushback” small boats carrying migrants attempting to cross the channel would make an already perilous route more dangerous and breach our international obligations. If the Home Secretary cannot demonstrate how enforcement powers can operate in a manner compatible with human rights law they should be scrapped. Plans to allow immunity from prosecution for border officials who commit criminal offences while carrying out these measures are wholly unacceptable.

The Joint Committee is supported by a team of top lawyers and parliamentary draftspersons and with their expertise we have proposed a series of amendments to the Bill that would put into law that maritime enforcement powers cannot be used in a manner that would endanger lives at sea. The UK must respect its obligations to ensure safety at sea, do all it can to prevent a repeat of the heart-breaking events of two weeks ago and certainly not make it more likely that yet more will drown.

It is a relief that the Home Secretary has changed the Bill to make it clear that organisations such as the RNLI will be protected from new offences designed to catch traffickers. They should not be prosecuted for saving the lives of migrants in danger at sea and that proposal should never have been in the Bill in the first place.

It is not just the government’s measures in the Bill to make the journey more difficult that need to be reconsidered, but also how people are treated when get here. Criminalising those who arrive in the UK without a visa or leave to remain would not only fail to meet our obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention but are unrealistic given the lack of safe and legal routes.

As the Bill comes closer to becoming law, it is clear that there needs to be a re-think. Human rights are fundamental and owed to all. They are not just annoying restrictions for the government to override.  As the Bill makes its way through Parliament, I hope that both MPs and peers keep this in mind.

For our part, the Joint Committee on Human Rights will continue to scrutinise the impact of this Bill and ensure that it respects the human rights commitments the UK has made.


Harriet Harman is the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham and chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

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