Last night MPs voted on the final stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill.
The Tories promised that these laws would prevent people from dangerous Channel crossings. Unfortunately, it will do the opposite, by effectively making it a criminal offence to seek asylum in the UK and undermining international cooperation.
I have opposed this Bill at every stage.
Labour would not criminalise people fleeing war. We would ensure safe, legal routes for people seeking asylum and would crack down on social media advertisements for people smugglers. As this Bill went through Parliament, we repeatedly put forward these changes, but they were voted down by the Tories.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is deeply troubling. And it’s not just Labour saying it. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has repeatedly warned that it will make it harder to prosecute criminals who smuggle and exploit people.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR has said that this legislation undermines the UN Refugee Convention, which the UK helped to draft after the Second World War. And a huge range of organisations and public figures have criticised the government’s unworkable plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, something which would be facilitated by this legislation.
From my dealings with the Home Office, it is clear it is a government department in meltdown. Under Priti Patel’s ‘leadership’, backlogs are spiralling, asylum seekers are often waiting years for decisions, thousands of Afghan refugees are still stuck in hotels and the schemes to help Ukrainians have left thousands in limbo. Even the relatively simple process of renewing a British citizen’s UK passport can now take several months.
Amidst this chaos, the government is trying to impose more cruel and unworkable sanctions on desperate people.
This is a pathetic attempt to appeal to nationalist and xenophobic attitudes. But I believe it will fail. The UK has a proud history of granting sanctuary to those fleeing war and persecution, a tradition embodied by the 150,000 UK families offering homes to Ukrainians.
Instead of policies which demonise asylum seekers, we need a more hopeful, positive and welcoming politics, exemplified by the Labour Party and made reality by a Labour government at the next election.