The whole country currently seems fixated on whether or not Number 10 were partying this time last year, just as they placed us, the general public, in a lockdown to protect against coronavirus spread. Yet nestled in amongst headlines and social media posts are some other shocking political stories being buried under the hype… and the passing of The Nationality and Borders Bill is one such important occurrence.
A Bill passed as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s ongoing ‘crackdown’ on illegal immigration and those seeking asylum, it was passed on to the House of Lords with a majority of 67 – an easy win for the Conservative Party, who currently hold the majority of seats in Parliament. But why is it so controversial? Well, we’re less than three years past the Windrush Scandal which saw the British Government strip citizens of their legal rights and in some cases deport them to countries they’d not been to in 50+ years, so the public are right to be critical. Yet it doesn’t take a deep dive into this proposal to find some pretty worrying proposals.
What is The Nationality and Borders Bill?
A Bill passed through Parliament is a proposal for either a new law or a change to the law, and in this case it’s the latter. The Nationality and Borders Bill is designed to aim to curb crossings of the English Channel by asylum seekers; but if crossings do happen, the way asylum claims are then made and processed will change too. The Ministers involved in writing the Bill say that it is designed to “make the asylum system fairer to protect those in genuine need, deter illegal entry to the UK and remove asylum seekers who have no legal right to be”.
What’s in The Nationality and Borders Bill?
Clauses in the Bill include the ability for the UK to send asylum seekers to a “safe third country” (so not the country they’ve fled, but also not the UK) and for them to submit their claim for asylum from there. This would require the installation of asylum claim processing centres to be set up in those designated safe countries, similar to centres run by nations like Australia. The Bill also gives the UK Border Force the ability to turn migrants away while still at sea – so boats would no longer be rescued but instead forced to return from wherever it is they departed from. It also criminalises the act of arriving in the UK without legal permission to do so. Those who do enter the country unlawfully will find the maximum sentence for doing so increased from six months in prison to four years.
For those who already hold British citizenship, The Nationality and Borders Bill gives the government the new ability to strip citizenship without notifying the person, for a number of named reasons. The government can already remove British citizenship from people under certain circumstances but they have to undergo a legal process to notify them. Perhaps the most recent publicly understood example of this is Shamima Begum; although there is lots of concern about the validity of the reasons for having stripped her of her British citizenship.
Surely boats of migrants trying to reach the UK are illegal anyway?
Travelling to a country to seek asylum is perfectly legal, but indeed the unsafe boats crowded with panicked people are usually facilitated by traffickers. Human trafficking is illegal, unethical and extremely dangerous – but once they’ve taken the cash and supplied a dinghy, these people tend to disappear and are difficult to find to prosecute. The Nationality and Borders Bill is separate from any law ruling on trafficking activities.
The legal (and moral) worry with this part of the Bill is the powers granted to the UK Border Force to allow them to turn away such boats while they’re still at sea. Concerns have been raised by several big-name lawyers including the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee – but Priti Patel insists that there is legal basis for this portion of the Bill.
The issue for many, however, isn’t legalities. The ethics behind turning away boats at sea – which are often extremely overcrowded and sinking vessels full of terrified and sick people. In many instances, this would be a certain death sentence. Even if boats do make it back to their departure destination, the people travelling wouldn’t have homes or possessions to return to.
Why is removing citizenship without notification a problem?
If your British citizenship is removed, you immediately lose the right to live and work in the UK and to use public services here. It’s unusual for citizenship to be removed, but it’s not unheard of. Those who are considered a threat to national security or public safety, or who had fraudulently obtained their citizenship can have it revoked – but they have the ability to appeal. Revoking citizenship with no notification would remove this right, because you wouldn’t know it had happened… and certainly wouldn’t have time to put together a cohesive legal team to appeal it before you were deported.
A country can’t revoke your citizenship if you’d then be rendered stateless, which means that technically those most at risk are people who hold dual citizenship – because they’d immediately be referred back to the other country for which they held a passport. According to figures from the ONS (Office for National Statistics), dual citizenship is held by two out of every five people in the UK who are a non-white ethic minority (41%) and one in twenty white people (5%). Communities of dual citizens in the UK are primarily Indian, Polish and Pakistani, but also Irish, Bangladeshi, Nigerian, South African, American and Jamaican. In total, it’s believed there’s over six million dual citizens in the UK; and should this Bill pass, they’d all be at increased risk of losing their citizenship overnight.
What happens now for the Bill?
Now that The Nationality and Borders Bill has passed through the House of Commons (where MPs sit and debate), it will be passed on to the House of Lords. The Lords will go through the Bill line by line and take into consideration any amendments made by the Commons. It will be raised in the House of Lords several times and any further amendments made, then passed on to the Queen for Royal Assent. If she grants it, the Bill will become an Act of Parliament, and be made in to law.
Can I do anything?
It’s too late to write to your MP about this Bill now because it’s already gone through the House of Commons, but technically you can still lobby a parliamentary representative to raise any concerns you have. The Lords don’t work to represent constituents in geographical locations like MPs do, but instead on policy and industry knowledge. You can find a list of Lords interested (and experienced) in matters relating to asylum, immigration and nationality on the official Parliament website and can write to any of them.
The header image at the top of this page was taken by Niklas Weiss, for Unsplash.