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MPs reject Lords amendments to soften Nationality and Borders Bill

25 March 2022


Protesters demonstrate against the Nationality and Borders Bill, in central London, on Saturday

Protesters demonstrate against the Nationality and Borders Bill, in central London, on Saturday

THE House of Commons overturned all the amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill made by the House of Lords earlier this month.

At the report stage, the Lords introduced a series of amendments to soften the Bill. The key amendment would have seen the removal of Clause 11, which effectively creates a two-tier asylum system based on whether asylum-seekers arrive in the UK with or without official entry clearance. Under the Government’s proposals, arriving without permission to seek asylum will become a criminal offence.

The Bishops of London, Durham, Chelmsford, and St Albans (News 10 January, 4 March, 11 March), all spoke against aspects of the proposed legislation during the report-stage debate in the House of Lords.

But, on Tuesday, when the Bill returned to the House, MPs rejected every amendment. The amendment to remove Clause 11 from the Bill was rejected by MPs by 318 votes to 220.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, Tom Pursglove, told the Commons that the Government had “carefully considered” the Lords’ amendments, as he moved the Government’s motions disagreeing with them.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Immigration, Stephen Kinnock, was one of those who spoke in support of the amendments. “The fact that the Government were defeated fully 19 times in the other place is proof positive that this appalling legislation is not fit for the statute book,” he said.

The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, called the move by the Commons “deeply shameful”. She said: “Tory MPs voted to make it a criminal offence for Ukrainian families to arrive in the UK without the right papers with a penalty of up to four years in prison. At a time when the British people have made clear that we need to help Ukrainian refugees, this is deeply shameful.”

But the Government did not intend to prosecute every illegal entrant, Mr Pursglove said. “Prosecutions will focus on egregious cases: for example, cases in which an individual has entered in breach of a deportation order, or was previously removed as an illegal entrant or overstayer.

“We intend to take a firm stance in such cases, in order not to inadvertently reward such individuals with a grant of leave rather than punishing their abuse of the system. We are working closely with the police and our internal investigation teams to ensure that this policy is properly enforced, but is also proportionate.”

The Lords amendment requiring the Bill to comply with the UK’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention was also rejected, by 313 votes to 231. “It is the clear position of this Government that everything we are doing is compatible with all our obligations under international law,” Mr Pursglove said.

The Commons voted by 302 to 232 to reinstate clause 28 of the Bill, which would allow asylum-seekers to be removed from the UK and sent overseas to a third country for their asylum claim to be processed. Mr Kinnock told the Commons that the so-called offshoring provisions were “perhaps the most unhinged element of the Bill”.

MPs also voted to reinstate the Bill’s clause 9, allowing the Home Secretary to strip a person of their British citizenship without giving notice. The Lords amendment giving asylum-seekers the right to work if they had been waiting for six months or more for a decision was rejected by MPs by 291 votes to 232.

All further votes were also won by the Government.

The organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urged the Government to reconsider. “It’s shameful that the Government has rejected these moderate, sensible changes, which would have removed some of the cruellest elements of the Nationality and Borders Bill,” the MSF UK advocacy officer, Sophie McCann, said.

In its current form, the Bill will enshrine the UK as one of the most anti-refugee countries in the world, at a time when the devastating impact of war and conflict is absolutely evident.

“The Government cannot be serious about this Bill — it is unworkable, exorbitantly expensive, and inhumane, targeting some of the most vulnerable people in the world. There is nothing ‘fair’ about criminalising, detaining, pushing back, and imprisoning refugees in offshore detention centres simply because of how they arrive in the UK. Closing off routes to the UK will only push people into the hands of criminal gangs and into more dangerous methods of attempting the journey.”

Following the rejection of the Lords’ amendments in the Commons, the Bill now goes back to the House of Lords.

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