This week the government has brought back the Nationality and Borders Bill. Many of you asked me to vote against it – which I can confirm I have done.
This Bill, now voted through the Commons stage by the Tories, is a pathetic attempt to appeal to anti-immigration sentiment, without any effective substance. It criminalises people seeking asylum and fails to provide alternative routes for them to legitimately reach the UK. As a result, it is a wasted opportunity to prevent dangerous Channel crossings and save lives.
Costly gesture politics
Two years ago Priti Patel said her plan would halve the number of boats attempting to cross the Channel within three months, and make them “infrequent” in six months. Since then they have increased tenfold.
In response to this failure, the Bill proposes unworkable solutions that will cost the taxpayer and undermine international humanitarian agreements at a time when cooperation is needed more than ever. On BBC Question Time last week I suggested several things the government could do which would be more useful than this sham legislation.
The Government says this Bill will improve security cooperation, but in practice its tough-sounding measures to send boats back are unworkable because the necessary agreements with France or other partner countries do not exist.
Instead, this Bill is likely to increase the asylum backlog, which has almost doubled in three years despite fewer applicants, thanks to Home Office incompetence. This means even more people in limbo at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds in costs for the taxpayer.
We need safe and legal routes for people to claim asylum in the UK, something which was in fact promised by the Tories. In reality, the Government has actually these routes for family reunion for refugees and asylum seekers in Europe and has included no safe, legal routes in this Bill. Without safe and legal routes for family reunion, those with family in the UK will continue to be exploited by criminal gangs as they try to make desperate, dangerous journeys to reunite with loved ones. Some of the 27 people who recently died trying to cross the Channel were trying to meet with their families.
Tearing up humanitarian commitments
One reason this Bill which should ring alarm bells is that it breaks international humanitarian commitments. For example, the Bill breaks international maritime law by requiring passing boats or vessels to ignore people in distress or face criminalisation.
The Bill also grants sweeping powers for the Home Secretary to decide on asylum cases based on how someone arrives in the country and on their mode of transport, not on the strength of their claim. This is a clear breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which Britain was a founding member.
And the Bill gives the Home Office sinister new powers to strip someone of their British citizenship without any warning. This is seriously concerning for the millions of dual nationals who could be deprived of British citizenship under this law.
Britain is better than this
This is typical of a government that cares more about rescuing dogs than human beings.
I know British people are better than this. When the Afghan government fell this summer, hundreds of people wrote to me to ask, “How can we help people escape persecution?” This outpouring of sympathy made me proud of Bristol and the UK.
Sadly, with this Bill, the Tories are attempting to answer a very different question: “how can we make a show of keeping people out of the UK, at all costs?” The Nationality and Borders Bill tries to answer this question with policies that are mean-spirited, sinister and ineffective. For these reasons, and those above, I voted against this legislation.