Farron: Nationality and Borders Bill worst legislation I’ve seen in 17 years

In a passionate speech in the House of Commons yesterday, Tim Farron condemned the Nationality and Borders Bill saying it is based on a bogus premise, that we are swamped by asylum seekers. He slammed the “utterly bogus, completely contrived and arbitrary notion” that asylum seekers should be treated if they got here by illegal routes.

Farron asked why are we not granting asylum seekers the right to work? He said if MPs vote for this Bill, “they are voting for deaths in the channel”. People come here not because of the pull factor, but because of the push factor and the outrages that they have experienced. People want to come to the United Kingdom because they know that it is a place of tolerance and of liberty.

The UK’s problem is an entirely structural one – incompetence in the Home Office.


Tim Farron’s speech in full.

I think this is the worst bit of legislation that I have seen in 17 years. Fundamentally, it is the worst bit of legislation because it is based on an utterly bogus premise, which is that we are swamped by asylum seekers. We are not. Compared with the 27 members of the European Union, the UK is 18th when it comes to the number of asylum claims that are granted. For many reasons that we know all about, last year was a heavy year. There were 48,000 asylum cases in the UK, 96,000 in France, and 127,000 in Germany. That is a reminder that our problem is an entirely structural one—incompetence in the Home Office—not that we are “swamped”.

Lords amendment 7 is about the right to work. Why are we not granting asylum seekers the right to work? It is right for integration, learning the language, and the dignity of those people being able to support their family and to pay their way. There is a left-wing and a right-wing argument for saying yes to this; it is barmy to say no.

Lords amendment 6 is about having two tiers. This is the most appalling and repugnant part of the entire Bill. I assume that the Government have confidence in our asylum system, in which case we judge people on the merits of their asylum claim through the system, not through the utterly bogus, completely contrived and arbitrary notion of the means by which they got here. Let us remember that 89% of Iranian asylum seekers have their claims granted, 97% of Eritreans, and 96% of Sudanese, none of whom have a legal route. The only way that they can get here is by making dangerous journeys. Let us be very clear: this Bill is a traffickers’ charter. If Members vote for this Bill, they are voting for deaths in the channel, because they will be removing the right of anyone who is not Ukrainian, Afghan or Syrian to have a safe route here, which is an outrage. Conservative Members know that that is the truth. Then there is offshoring. We have the guarantee that it is not the Ascension Islands, so where is it? South Georgia? People from all parts of the House have already mentioned that offshoring is ridiculous. It is a pantomime bit of nonsense, and it is also inhumane and massively expensive.

People talk about the pull factor, for pity’s sake. Have the Government not worked out that there is no dastardly, lunatic policy they could introduce to protect this country from asylum seekers that rivals the fact that we are a flipping island surrounded by water. People come here not because of the pull factor, but because of the push factor—because of the outrages that they experience. The people here have no sense of what it is like themselves. This is the sort of nonsense that people invent to try to push through the worst piece of legislation that I have seen in 17 years.

I want to spend a moment talking about Ukraine and our offer to the refugees fleeing that appalling and murderous tyrant, Putin. There is a lot to commend in the fact that there is some kind of a scheme now, but let us remember that it is laden with admin bureaucracy. I was talking to a Kendal friend of mine who is Ukrainian by birth. Their friends have seven-month-old twins who do not have passports, so the online application is not open to them. They have to get themselves to the embassy in Warsaw, as that is the only way that they can get here. We are throwing up barrier after barrier after barrier.

Why do people want to come here? Why do they not stay in the first place they reach? There are loads of reasons—cultural ties, the Commonwealth, language. There is also the fact that we have a reputation, a glorious reputation; people want to come to the United Kingdom because they know that it is a place of tolerance and of liberty. It is a place where there is religious tolerance, where they can earn a living, and where they can raise a family in safety.

The simple fact is this: even this despicable Bill will not undermine Britain’s centuries-old reputation as a place of sanctuary. Whatever this Government do, they cannot sully our reputation much, because this country’s reputation and history are glorious and so is its future, despite this puny little Government.

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  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Mar '22 - 11:30am

    What a marvellous speech. I agree with every word. (Well, except perhaps for the hyperbole of claiming there is “no pull factor”. I think there is a little bit of a pull factor, and we should be jolly glad there is. But clearly it’s not the main element.)

  • A (typically) tremendous speech from Tim Farron. He has still got it.
    This subject is right at the heart of the Brexit disaster, and divides the nation into two. On Pritti Patel’s side are, she says, “everyone I talk to on the doorstep”. No doubt any canvassing she does is with a selected group of voters, so she may be telling the truth, but we know there are many who abhor the turn this country has taken.
    For some voters, “asylum seeker” means the same as “any immigrant”, which means the same as “any bloody foreigner”. Xenophobia and racism are not the reason for the bill, but it contains a dog-whistle to those sentiments. Surely even the current Conservative government must realise how dangerous that is.

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Mar '22 - 6:00pm

    Push Factors are those reasons that force asylum seekers to leave their home country. Pull Factors explain why those who escape their own country then decide to pass through safe countries to get to the UK rather than stay in the first safe country they enter.

  • In the case of Ukraine – the “first safe country” for many is Poland – at least unless Putin attacks Poland. It is stupid to pretend that all the refugees can stay in one country – obviously Poland wouldn’t be able to fit all the children into their school system. Safe doesn’t equal viable

  • Suzanne Fletcher 24th Mar '22 - 12:26am

    Worst Bill in memory.
    Best speech I’ve heard for a long time.
    Thanks Tim.

  • Advocates of the “first safe country” might be prepared to welcome those who had traversed the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay in rubber dinghies when they landed in Cornwall, but their “geography trumps compassion” would also mean, for example, some Syrian refugees being the responsibility of Lebanon and Israel, both of which share a border with Syria.
    It stands to reason that refugees will want to go to where they are most welcome, and in the case of Ukrainians, provisionally only on a temporary basis.
    We also need to keep separate the response to a refugee crisis and an ongoing immigration policy. Some may have forgotten that Tim Farron spoke at Conference a few years ago against the idea of an open door approach to immigration, entirely consistent with his speech this week about refugees.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Mar '22 - 5:17pm

    The right to work is a fundamental human right and as such why should immigrants and asylum seekers be prevented? Dealing with it as a rights issue would allow appeals. This government penalises those who don’t want to work and those who do.

  • Brad Barrows 24th Mar '22 - 5:32pm

    @Peter Hirst
    Perhaps the issue is that, while ‘the right to work’ may be a fundamental human right, ‘the right to work in a country of your choosing’ is not.

  • He said if MPs vote for this Bill, “they are voting for deaths in the channel”.
    Trouble is a vote against this – what LibDems want, is also a vote for deaths in the channel…

    Fundamental we – through international agencies such as the UN, need to get better at intervention, so that people don’t feel so compelled to attempt to get into the UK by any means possible. As the situation in Ukraine demonstrates, if we are to really help people in their moment of need, we need for the time being, to ignore those currently in France attempting to cross the channel.

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