Tory Borders Bill passes in Commons, threatening rights of millions

The Tory government’s Nationality and Borders Bill has passed its third reading in the House of Commons. Such a bill, spearheaded by Home Secretary Priti Patel, will allow the Home Office to remove someone’s British citizenship without notifying them, and further criminalises attempts by refugees to enter the country. These policies leave 5.5 million British citizens at risk of unknowingly having their citizenship revoked.

The Nationality and Borders Bill is an attempt by government to further empower the Home Office. The office is already capable of making Brits stateless, as Priti Patel explained in a 2020 report to Parliament: “the Secretary of State may deprive that person of their British citizenship, even if doing so would leave them stateless. This action may only be taken if the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of that country.” However, with this bill, a Brit with their citizenship revoked may now not be informed. This could affect the ability of someone to engage in the appeals process against their loss of citizenship.

The Home Office argues no one will be left stateless, as it must be “in the interests of national security, (ii) in the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country, or (iii) otherwise in the public interest” or if it is “not reasonably practical”. However, what is and isn’t in these “interests”, and what “reasonably practical” means is very broad, and up to the government to decide.

The bill also serves to further criminalise and endanger refugees. For those who enter the UK by irregular or illegal means, their request for the asylum will be made inadmissible. The sentence for illegal entry will be extended too, from 6 months to 4 years. Refugees attempting to cross by sea (an already life-threatening journey), will be made even more dangerous, as the UK’s border force will see new powers. Staff will engage in “push-back operations” to force boats back the way they came. This only increases the likelihood that people will die.

The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee has questioned the legality of such push-backs. Committee chair Baroness Hamwee argued, “Even if there is a domestic legal basis, if it were actually implemented, it would almost certainly contravene the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Through these policies, the Tories would establish a two-tiered system for refugees, leaving those who cross by illegal means not properly entitled to their rights under the 1951 Refugee Convention. In particular question is Article 31 of the Convention, which prevents the penalisation of refugees who entered illegally in search of asylum if they present themselves without delay.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is critical of the bill. “While there are elements of the plan that could be positive – for example better support for the integration of those resettled – UNHCR opposes steps that differentiate the access to asylum and treatment of asylum-seekers based on their means and way of arrival. UNHCR also remains opposed to externalization of asylum and protection obligations, for example through off-shoring of asylum.”

Robina Qureshi, director for Positive Action in Housing, argues “Mourning the dead has not stopped the UK Government from planning to break with the Refugee Convention. The Nationality and Borders Bill will murder human rights as we know it and seeks to criminalise those who survive the peril of the seas and those at Dover who try to help them, and is in danger of wreaking murderous consequences for the relatively few who seek sanctuary here.”

Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch

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