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Illegal Migration Bill to pass into law, after Archbishop Welby withdraws his amendment

18 July 2023

Jesuit Refugee Service describes new law as ‘wantonly cruel’


Demonstrators in Parliament Square protest against the Illegal Migration Bill, on Monday

Demonstrators in Parliament Square protest against the Illegal Migration Bill, on Monday

THE Illegal Migration Bill has passed all its parliamentary stages and will become law once royal assent is given, probably on Thursday. The Archbishop of Canterbury withdrew his amendment because of a lack of government support during the “ping pong” stage between the Houses of Lords and Commons.

His amendment called for a ten-year cross-party strategy to address the refugee and human-trafficking crises (News, 14 July). The Government said that this was unnecessary.

Archbishop Welby told peers on Monday night that the Bill — and the refusal of the Government to accept any changes from the Lords, including his — had become a failure both of reconciliation and of parliamentary leadership and accountability.

Earlier in the debate, Lord Murray (Conservative) had said that, while he was “wholly sympathetic” to a holistic approach to the crises, “the Government have already embedded actions to tackle refugee crises through existing cross-government strategies” and international partnerships.

Archbishop Welby responded that “the Bill is not about today.” It would shortly be an Act, which would “last years. . . We cannot guarantee what kind of Government there will be at that time.”

Because his amendment did not have government support, however, he withdrew it. The Bill passed into law and is awaiting Royal Assent.

On Wednesday of last week, peers had voted 154 to 107 in favour of the Archbishop’s plan, despite its rejection by whipped MPs the previous week.

Before peers voted, Archbishop Welby had concluded that, if the ping-pong of the Bill continued, there were “other ways of doing it”; he would be “very happy and open to talk about alternative, but solid and dependable, ways of achieving the same ends for our country: reconciliation over this issue, accountability for this and future governments, flexibility in strategy, and leadership in the world”.

He said on Monday, however, that the Bill had started in the wrong place, without national agreement on what was needed to solve the crises. The Bill had several failures, he said: first, it did not give “space and time” for parliament to generate an answer to a “global, geopolitical, and generational” problem, particularly in relation to climate change, which was escalating migration.

It was, therefore, “a failure of reconciliation” and of “vision to leave the structures of migration better than they used to be because heaven alone knows it is more than 25 years since we could last look back and see an immigration policy that was really working. It is not a party-political thing.”

He continued: “The rejection of this amendment . . . diminishes parliamentary accountability.” This was particularly apparent in the Government’s dismissal of the “wisdom and experience” of Lord Dubs, whom Archbishop Welby described as “probably the most respected man in this House”. Parliamentary leadership had also been diminished, he said.

Archbishop Welby concluded: “This Bill pins everything down; it does not give grace periods or enable Parliament and the Government to say that the situation had changed dramatically.

“Who would have said four years ago that we would have 45,000 people coming across the channel in boats? Of course, we must stop that . . . but I fail to see how this legislation does that, and I have not heard anything to convince me.

“But that is the view of the other place, and I agree that, in the end, on most things, except the most essential, this House must give way to the other place. Therefore, I shall not be seeking to divide the House on this Motion.”

An amendment from the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, which was tabled by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, last week, was not moved because of “the lateness of the hour and the current mind of the House”. It had sought to prevent children from being detained under the Bill for longer than 120 hours (five days).

Lord Murray argued, however, that this would “see criminal gangs putting together fake family groups, more adults seeking to pass themselves off as children, and genuinely unaccompanied children being put at risk”.

“The next barge for Rwanda should be along in half an hour”

On Tuesday, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) said in a statement that the passing of the law was “outrageous” and “represents a ban on claiming asylum. It contravenes the Refugee Convention and is wantonly cruel.

“It will mean men, women, and children are incarcerated on a massive scale. It will leave hundreds and thousands in limbo for years on end. It will strip modern slavery survivors of protections and empower traffickers. And it has been forced through parliament at breakneck speed, avoiding scrutiny wherever possible.

“This Bill is anti-refugee, it is anti-human.”

The Director of JRS UK, Sarah Teather, said: “The Illegal Migration Bill drags any sense of the UK’s moral leadership on the world stage headlong into a gutter of hate. In it, we have abandoned the principle of refugee protection, and denied that we have a duty to anyone else in the world. We haven’t even done this to achieve any useful end, but revelled in sheer performative cruelty.

“I am particularly horrified that Parliament has decided to revert to wholesale incarceration of children in the immigration system, a practice I was instrumental in outlawing when in Government.”

Later on Tuesday afternoon, a coalition of 294 churches, charities, and civil rights organisations, including the President and Vice Presidents of the Methodist Conference and the President of Churches Together in England released a joint statement deploring the new law.

It said that “This senselessly cruel Act will have a devastating impact on people’s lives. It turns our country’s back on people seeking safety, blocking them from protection, support, and justice at a time they need it most.”

By “rushing through” the law, the Government had abandoned “the UK’s moral and legal obligations” and had risked “breaching multiple international human-rights treaties . . . while shielding the Government from accountability. The UK Government has admitted that it cannot confirm if the Act is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Act would force people into live-threatening situations, including by placing chlidren in detention. “The Act attacks the very core of human rights, which is the principle that we all have them regardless of who we are or where we are from.”

The Salvation Army said that it was “extremely disappointed and concerned” by the law, “in particular, by making no concessions to recognise the vulnerability of people caught in modern slavery, this Act will prevent genuine victims from seeking the support they need and are entitled to in international law. . . 

“We fear the Illegal Migration Act will do nothing to break the cycles of exploitation that trap countless people. It will instead punish those who need support to rebuild their lives free from modern slavery.”

The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, and the Bishop of Liverpool, Dr John Perumbalath, contributed to a video by the coalition Together with Refugees, saying that the law went against the responsibility of faith leaders “to love, listen, show respect and compassion” to strangers.

Read more in this week’s Leader comment

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