Focus on migration Part 2 – asylum policies

Last week, Liberal Democrat Voice shared Carmichael’s timely speech on UK’s asylum policy. I’d like to share my views on this critical issue.

First, the legal implications. In terms of domestic law, the Rwanda Safety Bill is setting the scene for a constitutional crisis. The Bill overturns a Supreme Court decision, but under the UK’s unwritten constitution, the separation of power between the legislature and the judiciary is not as sharply defined as compared to other jurisdictions, such as the US. To limit parliament’s legislative power (even when it is a case of limiting Doublespeak), is not without risk for the judiciary, as it will be viewed as a constitutional innovation.

In terms of international law, it is true that under the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, parliament can breach treaty obligations it has entered into. However, the implications of this are serious; to go down this path is to risk the UK, far from becoming a global leader, becoming a global pariah instead.

What huge costs – what is it all for?

At the outset, we do need to acknowledge that immigration has indeed become a major issue for voters. In a recent constituency poll by Survation, 351 constituencies (54%) ranked immigration as one of their top three issues.

To reach a liberal response to the asylum situation, I think first of all a simple but potentially-misunderstood point must be made: while certain acts might be inherently moral/immoral, nothing is illegal unless the government legislates it so. “Illegal” migration is illegal because it is illegalised by statutes – it was the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 (S.40) that illegalised and criminalised the very act of someone without a visa arriving in the UK or UK waters with the intention to seek asylum.

To some extent, I am worried that the Conservatives have succeeded in their communication strategy in the past few years, as I detect that the framing of the asylum debate has changed. The debate has moved from a place where the public discussed the rights and wrongs of illegalising asylum arrivals, to one where the conversation now turns on which country asylum seekers should be removed to. The result of this moral deterioration is evident in the fact that now both the Tories and the Tory-lites are united in affirming the illegalisation of asylum arrivals, and the necessity of removals.

Our Party must not be drawn into this narrative. Instead we must consider the question at a more fundamental level: whether the UK, as the world’s sixth wealthiest nation by GDP, has a moral duty to accept refugees, rather than offloading them to third countries.

We must affirm, as Carmichael did, our obligations as a member of the global community. The increasing refugee flow due to climate change and growing geopolitical instability is a worldwide issue, solvable only if each state contributes proportionally. We must therefore see it as unsustainable, for instance, that Greece, a country with less than a tenth of UK’s GDP and a sixth of UK’s population, hosts roughly the same number of refugees as the UK. We must shift the frames of the debate: instead of being drawn into answering how to remove “illegal” asylum seekers, we must advocate for the re-legalisation of the right to seek asylum, and for making the exercise of that right safe and efficacious- i.e., the implementation of an asylum visa, caseworked with speed by an independent body outside the Home Office.

* Michael Wang lives in Brighton and Hove. He’s on the executive for the local party and council for LD4SOS. Professionally he is an immigration law practitioner.

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  • Suzanne Fletcher 20th Dec '23 - 10:27am

    Thank you Michael for emphasising the point that there is no such thing as “an illegal person”, and it is NOT illegal to claim asylum, it is a human right.
    Not only are right wingers and the popular press getting the word “illegals” into vocabulary but I hear it increasingly amongst reasonable people and even some Lib Dems.
    LD4SOS published a document “Let’s get the names right” a few years ago.

  • Michael’s article highlights how important this issue already is, and the migrant problems will only get worse as climate change and political upheavals take effect. No-one has the answer, and it seems the old rules are rapidly becoming obsolete. Offering sanctuary to a few thousand people every year who are escaping torture or death in a foreign country is a box most of us would like to tick, and economic migrants are mostly welcome if we need them. In both cases they are likely to reward us by being grateful. However, if a million people a year want sanctuary or refuge in the UK people are likely to conclude that there is only so much we can do, especially those who are frightened that ‘British culture’ will be swamped by alien ideas.
    The Conservatives are confronting this problem in their own misguided way with the absurd Ruanda plan. We need to get beyond rubbishing that plan and develop a realistic alternative – not just for now, but for the years to come, when migration accelerates.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Dec '23 - 1:08pm

    an interesting article. Without oversight parliament can make any laws it likes. So parliament needs oversight. Without an independent judiciary and a proper constitution this relies on international and global instruments that can be ignored. Civil society and hopefully the media will use moral arguments when deciding whether proposed laws are supported. Parliament also need a moral compass that relies on its members.

  • Nigel Jones 20th Dec '23 - 2:39pm

    This government is pleased to use immigration as a distraction from other issues. We can and should be saying that as a long as economic migration is controlled according to our job situation and asylum seekers given a hearing according to international law, this matter is lower down the scale of priorities than the cost of living crisis. However, it arouses such emotion that there is a risk that it becomes a high priority in enough people’s minds that it distorts the result of the next general election in the same way that it led to the small majority for Brexit.
    Right wingers use it to stir people’s prejudices (and what some even call fairness to British citizens) and the Labour leadership are scared enough to join in that approach. I agree with the comments above, but we have so limited scope to engage in the media so that people get a proper perspective on it. Layla Moran said the right thing on Question Time recently; that the number of immigrants can vary according to economic needs, implying it should be controlled, though it might have been even better if she had said the latter, as well as of course reminding people of how we can help asylum seekers.
    Another important point is to tell people that the less we do to help people in poorer countries around the world, the bigger the issue is going to become.

  • Mick Taylor 20th Dec '23 - 6:43pm

    This government always professes its belief in the market. Why then does it not apply this thinking to immigration and allow market forces to take care of who comes and goes. Prior to 1962 this was pretty much the case. In fact, it was only Liberal members of parliament who steadfastly opposed increasingly harsh controls over immigration, most notably the Kenya Immigrants bill introduced in 1968 by Labour, selling out on the long time guarantee that commonwealth citizens were British.
    Oh, silly me, that would deprive them of whole raft of dead cats to distract from the real problems their government has and is creating.

  • Martin Gray 20th Dec '23 - 6:44pm

    Andy is right as regards the numbers, It would be unsustainable & unacceptable to the British public in the longer term . It’s been in the top three concerns for voters for a considerable time , & there some on the left that support open borders – others fully understand what that means “It is clear that the price of unregulated globalisation, mass immigration and the free movement of labour is paid for by the lower classes.”
    Mette Fredrickson Danish PM

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