Social Justice

Scotland and Wales reject ‘anti-refugee’ Nationality and Borders Bill

Politicians in both the Scottish and Welsh governments have now refused consent for Priti Patel's Nationality and Borders Bill.

nationality and borders bill

Priti Patel.” Image: Simon Dawson/Number 10 Downing St

Britain’s devolved governments have voted against Westminster’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

Officials in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments voted to refuse consent for the lengthy legislation, which has been dubbed the “anti-refugee bill” by campaigners.

If passed, the bill would give the UK government powers to jail asylum seekers for up to four years if they arrive via treacherous small boat journeys, and send others to a third country for processing and detention.

It would also allow ministers to strip people of their British citizenship without warning.

Neil Gray, Scotland’s international development minister, tabled a Holyrood motion warning the “repugnant” legislation would “damage people living in communities across Scotland and the UK, now and in the future”.

Following a debate, MSPs voted overwhelmingly – 94 to 29 – to reject the Nationality and Borders Bill.

“This abhorrent bill will criminalise those seeking refuge in the UK after fleeing the most dangerous conflicts in the world,” said Elena Whitham, SNP MSP and convener of the social security and social justice committee. “It is completely grotesque and I welcome the Scottish Parliament rejecting this piece of legislation.

“We have all heard the harrowing stories of refugees fleeing war and torture by making the dangerous journey across the Channel just to seek safety.”

The bill is “one of the cruellest to ever come out of the hostile environment policy of the Home Office”, Whitham added.

The Holyrood vote came one week after the Welsh Parliament also voted down the legislation – but neither administration can stop the bill as it continues through Westminster on its journey to becoming law.

“The UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill will fundamentally undermine our nation-of-sanctuary vision,” said Jane Hutt, social justice minister, ahead of the Senedd vote.

“The provisions are the antithesis of what is needed to achieve the stated aim of making immigration safer and more effective.”

Mark Drakeford, first minister of Wales, previously called the proposed laws “an impending tragedy”.

The far-reaching bill has been widely condemned by immigration specialists, human rights law specialists and politicians who say the plans undermine devolved powers. But Home Secretary Priti Patel said it would strengthen the asylum system and make people less likely to want to bypass other countries for the UK.

The legislation, currently being examined in the House of Lords, is close to becoming law. It will likely receive its third reading in the Lords – where peers have expressed several objections to elements of the bill – in the coming weeks, before returning to MPs in the Commons who will consider the amendments. At that point, it must only receive royal assent in order to become law.

Devolved parliaments’ opposition to the ”cruel and dangerous” bill is “brilliant news”, said Minnie Rahman, campaigns director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

She said: “Their move follows condemnations of the bill by human rights lawyers, anti-trafficking campaigners, race equality charities and communities up and down the country.

“Every day it becomes clearer that this bill is unpopular and unworkable. It’s time the Westminster government abandoned it.”

Campaigners in Scotland welcomed Holyrood’s decision and called on MSPs to do everything within their power to protect people seeking safety.

Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “From making sure that the rights of refugees are protected at every possible opportunity in Scottish legislation – notably in the forthcoming Scottish Human Rights Bill – to creating a full and robust system to identify and support victims of trafficking to reviewing several public strategies, there are meaningful practical actions that the Scottish government can take to ensure Scotland remains a welcoming place for refugees.”

When questioned on the Nationality and Borders Bill, Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill – first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, respectively – said changes in the proposals were “concerning”, particularly the impacts on “those arriving spontaneously outside of a designated ‘safe and legal’ route”.

It risks creating an “unhelpful two-tier system and could give rise to the misperception that those seeking asylum do not have the right to be here,” they added. 

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