October 02 2023

‘Unnecessary, mean-minded and vindictive’: peers savage anti-refugee bill

‘Unnecessary, mean-minded and vindictive’: peers savage anti-refugee bill

Peers inflicted more than 12 more defeats on Priti Patel’s anti-refugee bill yesterday as it returned to the House of Lords. The Tory peer Lord Cormack dismissed the Nationality and Borders Bill as ‘largely unnecessary… mean-minded and at times approaches the vindictive’.

Clauses 9 and 11 of the Bill, which would allow the Home Secretary to strip citizenship without notice, and impose a two-tier system on asylum-seekers based on how they enter the UK, were rejected by the Lords for the first time in February. Following votes in the House of Commons, the controversial provisions were reinstated and sent back to the Lords.

‘I think we got it right the first time in taking the clause out,’ said crossbench Peer Lord Kerr on clause 11, which would criminalise asylum-seekers based on their mode of entry. ‘I think the concern across the country about the way that the Government are treating the victims of Putin’s war in Ukraine shows that we are more in tune with the national mood than the Home Office.’

Peers voted in several amendments, including provisions that would grant asylum-seekers the right to work if their claims are not resolved after six months, and allow unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe to join their family members in the UK.

Peers also supported a motion to impose upon the courts a role in ensuring that the bill complies with the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. ‘[The motion] gives effect to the Government’s emphatic policy of refugee convention compliance in times when this could not be more important,’ said Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti. ‘No reasonable Government should object.’

Until both houses of parliament can agree on the bill’s wording, it will continue to be passed between the chambers in what the Bishop of Durham has described as ‘parliamentary ping pong’.

By convention, the Lords are expected to allow a bill to pass if MPs make it clear that they do not support amendments from the Upper Chamber. However, with Parliament expected to be prorogued later this month and a number of bills yet to make their way through parliament, concessions could be forced. The government has already made concessions to the House of Lords in relation to key parts of its Elections Bill, with a view to getting it passed in time.

Responding to the defeats in the House of Lords, Amnesty International UK Refugee and Migrant Rights Director Steve Valdez-Symonds said: ‘The Government’s chaotic, obstructive and inept responses to the Afghan and Ukraine refugee crises are part and parcel of the same harmful attitude to people seeking asylum that this fundamentally ill-conceived bill demonstrates. The Lords have given the Government yet another opportunity to recognise what we can all see – that asylum policy as set out in this bill is completely unworkable, out of step with reality and incompatible with the UK’s moral and legal obligations.’

The government has argued that the power to strip people of their citizenship without notice would only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances’, and that the separation of asylum-seekers into different classes based on mode of entry would act as a deterrent, and prevent people from making dangerous journeys in small boats.