The Illegal Migration Bill, which would all but extinguish the right to claim asylum in the UK, is now at Report Stage in the House of Lords. It is troubling, indeed deeply saddening, to think that this horrifying Bill could become law before parliament goes into recess. However, there is still reason to hope.
This is the key opportunity for Lords to amend the Bill before it is sent back to the House of Commons. In the first session of Report Stage last Wednesday, 28th June, the Lords made important amendments to the Bill. If they remained in the Bill, amendments made so far would lessen the destructive impact of the Bill in important ways:
One key amendment states that, nothing in the Bill can be read to contradict key parts of international law, to which the UK is a signatory, designed to protect human beings, including, crucially, the Refugee Convention. The clause insisting on compliance with these international frameworks also took out the clause that would mean everything in the Bill has to be read to effect removal from the UK.
Much of the Bill on the face of it does contradict international law, including the Refugee Convention, so if this stays in the Bill, it might give vulnerable people a chance to argue for their rights in court.
Second, another amendment sought to ensure that the Bill, if passed, wouldn’t apply retrospectively to people who have arrived from 7th March 2023. It’s really unusual for laws to apply retrospectively, and makes accountability harder as it changes goalposts.
A third amendment was aimed at protecting survivors of trafficking and modern slavery so that they would after all, have some access to the National Referral Mechanism designed to identify survivors.
And a fourth amendment passed last Wednesday stipulates that the government would still consider asylum claims from unaccompanied children. As the Bill was originally drafted, even unaccompanied children would be routinely barred from claiming asylum under the Bill’s asylum ban clauses.
Yesterday, -Monday- the government suffered further defeats. Crucially, peers voted for amendments that would retain existing limits on the detention of pregnant women and children. As drafted, the Bill would remove protections from these groups, allowing them to be held in immigration detention indefinitely.
Report stage will continue tomorrow, 5th July 2023.
When the Bill goes back to the House of Commons, MPs will have the chance to accept or reject these amendments, or to amend them again. They’ll also get a final chance to reject this cruel and unworkable Bill in its entirety. So it’s really important that everyone writes to their MP to tell them they don’t want a refugee ban bill, they want an asylum system that extends protection to those who need it. It’s really important that MPs realise this Bill was a mistake.
Even if, remarkably, all the amendments seeking to retain protections for vulnerable groups and ameliorate the worst parts of the Bill were to pass, the Bill would still represent an unprecedented barrier to safety for refugees at best, destroy human lives, and be detrimental to the Common Good. But there is a chink of light in a dark time. We keep on striving for justice.
Write to your MP and ask them to oppose the Illegal Migration Bill when it returns to the Commons!