During a session held late on Monday, February 28th, the House of Lords voted to reject many of the main clauses in the UK government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill. The legislation was designed to clarify British policy on asylum and immigration. It also included controversial provisions that would make it easier for the Home Office to revoke British citizenship without warning, if it is held to be “in the interests of national security” or “otherwise in the public interest.”
The details for removing citizenship, outlined in clause 9 of the bill, were amended by the Lords. The government claims that a power to deprive dangerous people of their passports without notice is necessary for exceptional circumstances, such as when they are in a war zone and cannot be given advanced warning of such a decision. The right to appeal would remain unaffected. Nevertheless, peers scrapped the idea by 209 votes to 173, a majority of 36.
More overwhelmingly, the Lords also defeated plans to separate refugees into two groups based on the routes they had taken to enter the UK, often unlawfully. These provisions, detailed in clause 11 of the bill, lost out by 204 votes to 126, a majority of 78.
Under clause 11, any asylum claims made by migrants would be classed as more or less deserving depending on two important criteria. First, in line with Article 1 of the Refugee Convention, asylum seekers would have a stronger claim to reside in Britain if they arrive “directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened” and they present themselves “without delay to the authorities.” Second, the legislation also stipulates that where a refugee has touched down in the country illegally, they must be able to “show good cause for their unlawful entry or presence” in order to qualify for more favourable treatment.
British conservatives, most notably Douglas Murray of The Spectator, have long been pressuring ministers to get tougher on illegal immigration. According to the BBC, 2021 witnessed a record 28,431 migrants paying for criminal gangs to smuggle them across the English Channel in small, barely seaworthy vessels. The Lords’ recent victory constitutes a setback for those who had sought a definitive long-term solution to the ongoing migrant crisis on the southeast coast of England.
Meanwhile, the British Left praised the government’s defeat in the Lords as a triumph for compassion and humanity. According to The Guardian, the Labour Party peer and refugee campaigner Lord Dubs claimed that the people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan in recent memory “give the lie to the idea that somehow you can get here by the sort of route that the Home Office approves of.”
Dr. Benedict Greening, the Executive Director of Migration Watch UK, had the following response to Lord Dubs’ attack on the legislation: “The urgent need to help those displaced by the awful events in Ukraine demonstrates exactly why clause 11 existed. If we cannot distinguish between genuine refugees and those who simply seek asylum status to game the system, we become ever less capable of offering refuge to those who need our help in times of global crisis. Legal powers to send back rule-breakers while helping those who really need help is what humane policy really looks like.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office also wished to highlight the government’s plans to aid Ukrainian refugees: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to the most vulnerable people around the world. Our Ukrainian Humanitarian Route will allow families to be reunited in the UK, while our sponsor route will give safety to Ukrainians who have sadly been forced to flee their homes.”
Asked whether the government will challenge the House of Lords, the spokesperson said: “The Lords’ votes on the Nationality and Borders Bill are disappointing, but we will not be deterred from delivering what the British people voted for.”