Sally Hamwee writes…Lib Dem Lords will do our best to fight Nationality and Borders Bill

Ministers quite often urge “professional curiosity”,  a probing, analytical approach, not a careless, unthoughtful, knee-jerk response.  They haven’t applied it to the Nationality and Borders Bill – that’s the Bill that creates deserving and undeserving asylum-seekers, allows the Home Secretary to make people stateless, and provides for pushing back small boats at sea. And more.

Professional (political) curiosity should also prompt questions from us all about how a Bill (whose 100 plus pages I would like to throw out almost wholesale) can have any appeal.  Have people had bad encounters with individual refugees? Unlikely. Is it fear of the “other”? We are a mongrel nation; I tick the “White Briton” box, but I often think about what recent immigrants my family were.  Is it insecurity about housing, jobs, the economy? Quite possibly – and that’s where government effort should go, along with taking a lead on integration and valuing refugees.  This Bill extends the hostile environment to one of aggressive hostility.

Nor is it trauma-informed, and won’t become so by asserting that this is what guides the Home Office.  That’s the very clear view of the many organisations who know that assessing an asylum seeker’s age is not a straightforward matter of science, but should be about safeguarding (there’s a lot in the Bill that’s very damaging to children).  And that someone who has been subject to appalling experiences at home and undertaken an almost unimaginable journey to the UK is not going to be able instantly to relate their story fully and cogently, or probably for a considerable time (if ever).

We are told the Bill is to break the business model of smugglers.  I thought that politicians who admire successful business people should understand that they find ways round obstacles. The Bill will strengthen their hold over asylum seekers; it plays into their business model.

The policy is to be “fair”.  What is fair about the UK receiving a comparatively, per head of population, low number of asylum applications and taking a comparatively low number of refugees – that’s compared to EU and EEA countries. Worldwide 75% of refugees are hosted by bordering states, and 85% by some of the poorest countries.  The UK can’t take in everyone, but we fall well short of our fair share. As the UNHCR puts it, challenging the Government’s approach to international conventions, “If states like the UK, that receive a comparatively small fraction of the world’s asylum-seekers and refugees … renege on their commitments, the system is weakened globally and the role and influence of the UK … severely impacted.”  There are some very expert lawyers in the Lords who will be interested in the UK’s compliance with our international obligations.

The UNHCR and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner are among those who have published measured but devastating critiques of the Bill and the underlying policy.  We have heard personal comments from individuals: “Although I don’t believe the current frontbench is racist, it would be naïve to imagine that it will always be ‘in the public interest’ for me and my parents to continue to enjoy the ‘privilege’ of our British citizenship”.  How many British citizens suddenly feel insecure?

I doubt we will hear about the creation of safe and legal routes to the UK (their lack puts most refugees into “Group 2”), or about the establishment of humanitarian visas. The gloom of those of us in the Lib Dem group working on the Bill is compounded by knowing that the numbers on the government benches will make it very difficult to win votes in the Lords, and that if we do they are likely to be overturned in the Commons.  That’s something I’ve had to explain to people who assume we’re in a position to block the Bill.  But I’ve also said: We will do our best.

* Sally Hamwee is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and the Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities.

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One Comment

  • Suzanne Flethcher 6th Jan '22 - 5:45pm

    Excellent speech made by Sally on this dreadful Bill, the worst we have seen on immigration issues. Also 7 other Lib Dem Peers, Paddick, Dholakia, German, Ludford, Oates, Wallace. In addition to 3 bishops all labour, cross benchers and even many tories.
    They all made the case more eloquently, and Sally raised Humanitarian Visas as a way forward that are new Lib Dem policy from spring conference this year.
    No doubt there will be good Lords amendments and just hope that our MPs speak out as our Peers did, and that enough Tories act with humanity to defy the whip and vote for the amendments.

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