Yvette Cooper criticises “deeply shameful” Tory MP votes on borders bill 

Our loyal members, Neil and Simon, had a busy day on Tuesday knocking down all those irritating Lords amendments to the borders bill. – Owl

Katie Neame labourlist.org

Yvette Cooper has criticised the “deeply shameful” votes of Tory MPs who have rejected House of Lords amendments to the nationality and borders bill after a parliamentary debate today.

Conservative MPs have scrapped all changes made to the legislation by peers, including an amendment that would have blocked government plans to criminalise asylum seekers arriving in the UK without permission.

Reacting to the votes, the Shadow Home Secretary said: “Tory MPs voted to make it a criminal offence for Ukrainian families to arrive in the UK without the right papers with a penalty of up to four years in prison. At a time when the British people have made clear that we need to help Ukrainian refugees, this is deeply shameful.

“The Conservatives also voted against the international Refugee Convention which Britain helped to draft in the wake of the Second World War, calling on all countries to do their bit to help those fleeing the horrors of war. This should be a source of pride, and for the British government to reject it when war is raging in Europe once more is inexcusable.

“More than three million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion, many of them children and elderly people. They need support and solidarity from all countries. The Home Office has already been far too slow to help. Today’s votes make that much worse. Britain is better than this.”

Results of House of Commons votes on House of Lords amendments today:

  • Motion to reject amendment four, which proposed to remove a clause that would allow the UK to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship without notice, passed by 318 to 223
  • Motion to reject amendment five, which sought to ensure the bill remained compatible with the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, passed by 313 to 231
  • Motion to reject amendment six, which tried to force the government to drop its plans to treat asylum seekers differently depending on how they arrive in the UK, passed by 318 to 220
  • Motion to reject amendment seven, which proposed to reduce the period asylum seekers are unable to work after arriving in the UK from 12 months to six, passed by 291 to 232
  • Motion to reject amendment ten, which sought to make it easier for those already in Europe to be reunited with family members lawfully residing in the UK, passed by 305 to 230
  • Motion to reject amendment 11, which would have required the government to commit to resettling at least 10,000 refugees each year, passed by 313 to 227
  • Motion to reject amendment 13, which would have removed from the bill a new offence of knowingly arriving in UK without valid entry clearance, passed by 317 to 220

In a speech during the debate today, Labour frontbencher Stephen Kinnock said the bill “doesn’t only fail to meet any of the challenges our migration system faces” but “actively makes the system worse”.

He described the proposal to criminalise people seeking asylum in the UK without clearance as “a particularly disturbing aspect”, saying “we should not be seeking to criminalise refugees desperately looking for a new home”.

The shadow immigration minister also highlighted the proposal to allow asylum seekers to be offshored to overseas processing centres, calling it “perhaps the most unhinged element” of the legislation.

“It’s operationally illiterate because it’s so utterly impractical, and it’s economical illiterate because it costs an eye-watering amount of taxpayers’ money,” Kinnock told MPs today, calling Britain’s asylum system “utterly inflexible”.

The shadow minister said the bill represents “a catalogue of failure on immigration policy” and “a combination of incompetence and indifference from a government that is presiding over a system which is neither fair, compassionate nor orderly”.

Tory rebel Damian Green told the House of Commons that safe routes to the UK are unavailable for “far too many people”, including 87% of those arriving in small boats, as they come from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Fellow Conservative rebel David Davis slammed asylum offshoring as a “moral, economic and practical failure”, saying: “What we cannot do is basically put aside our ethical standards to drive people away from our shores”.

Tory backbencher Robert Buckland argued in the debate that asylum seekers “have a contribution to make to our society” through alleviating labour shortages and bringing revenue to the Treasury.

Andrew Mitchell, a former International Development Secretary, criticised the offshoring asylum seekers idea by noting that “it would be much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz and send all the under-18s to Eton”.

The controversial nationality and borders bill returned to the House of Commons today after the government suffered 19 defeats on the legislation in the House of Lords, where peers made a number of amendments.

Proposed changes to the bill from the Lords included scrapping plans to allow asylum seekers to be offshored to overseas processing centres, as put forward by former Tory immigration minister Lord Kirkhope.

Peers had also voted to reduce the amount of time asylum seekers have to wait before they can work in the UK from 12 months to six months, and to create a statutory resettlement scheme with a target of 10,000 refugees per year.

The House of Lords tried to force the government to drop plans to treat asylum seekers differently depending on how they arrive in the UK, as ministers intend to make arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence.

Labour’s Lord Dubs – who fled Nazi Germany as a child – described the government move as “a complete nonsense” and “not workable”, highlighting that people often struggle to get to the UK via official routes.

Peers had also voted against plans to allow the UK to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship without notice. Tory peer Baroness Warsi said the proposal would make her and her children “second-class citizens”.

The bill was passed by MPs in December, with 298 for and 231 against, giving the government a majority of 67 votes. Ministers say the legislation will establish a “firm but fair” system and enable the UK to “take full control of its borders”.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International says the legislation would “create significant obstacles and harms to people seeking asylum in the UK’s asylum system”.