“The Conservative motive is to distract from the cost-of-living crisis using age-old divide-and-rule scapegoat tactics.”
By Beth Winter MP
As the Commons debated the Illegal Migration Bill on Monday, I thought of the words of the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, which encapsulated the principles and values that I and so many others in our movement hold in our hearts.
On Saturday, at Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno, he talked about, “the basic belief that, in our brief lives, we owe a duty of care to family and friends but also to strangers.“
He had said how, “it’s there in our ambition to be a nation of sanctuary, to provide a warm welcome to all of those who seek sanctuary – from wherever – and however they may come. And it is rooted in the sort of Wales we want, a country which is confident, outward-looking, inclusive and kind. A country where our own culture is strengthened by embracing other cultures from around the world.“
The contrast with the Conservative Party could not be clearer.
Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman, in pursuing this Bill, are doing so not because they believe it will stop the boats, not to crack down on people smugglers, and certainly not to help those fleeing war.
Their priority is to further a culture war that divides the dispossessed and desperate from abroad from the dispossessed of this country – who’s pay has been cut, who’s social security has been cut, and who can’t afford the food and energy they need in this Conservative cost-of-living crisis. The Conservative motive is to distract from the cost-of-living crisis using age-old divide-and-rule scapegoat tactics.
This Bill is an assault on asylum rights and must be thrown out. Even on the face of it – on its cover – the Home Secretary is unable to confirm it complies with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is required of all bills under Labour’s 1998 Human Rights Act.
The Illegal Migration Bill is a sweeping attack on asylum. It makes asylum claims inadmissible if arriving irregularly, it makes detention the norm, and it creates a duty to ‘remove’ those arriving irregularly. It gives enormous powers to the Home Secretary, undermining the courts, and gives them power to determine a cap on asylum claims each year.
As the UN Refugee Agency has said, “The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom.”
And considering its aim is to stop channel crossings, which resulted in nearly half of all asylum claims in 2022, we know, from the Refugee Council estimates, that, “of all those who crossed the Channel last year, two thirds would be granted asylum.” So this is clearly an assault on a large number of people with genuine asylum claims, which the slow UK asylum system would be expected to eventually grant asylum to.
And, challenging the idea that legislation rammed through the Commons and Lords is something people climbing into boats in France are considering, as the Government here suggests, the Institute for Government has said, “the idea that by making the asylum system more difficult to navigate, prospective asylum seekers are less likely to travel to the UK … has no basis in published evidence.“
But there is an alternative.
In terms of improving the asylum process, we need to expand safe routes. This could include piloting a refugee visa that would allow people to apply for asylum in the UK from close to the country they’ve fled, such as people from Ukraine have been afforded over the past year.
And we need to tackle the backlog. That means giving people a fair hearing and ending the limbo of living without a decision. And by fair hearing, that means improved decisions by the Home Office, which continues to deny asylum claims and then lose on appeal, wasting time and resources.
But we need also to be alive to and deal with the political impacts of the debate around this bill on the ground. It demonises and persecutes some of the most vulnerable people in society.
We have already seen it is contributing to tension and division.
One Conservative member in the Chamber said:
“I am afraid that this country is nearly full” and claimed his constituents struggled to access services and were fed up of seeing asylum seekers, “receiving free accommodation, free food and access to local services” – ignoring the impact of Conservative austerity for over a decade on public provision.
Social media is becoming more toxic. And we have already seen a rise in violence and intimidation by the far-right such as the bomb we saw in Dover, and more recently targeting a hotel in Knowsley, and further attempted violence in Cannock.
This bill seeks to set the dispossessed and desperate from abroad against the dispossessed of this country that the Government attacks every day.
This is not the type of country I want to live in, nor do I want this for my children and future generations.
I voted against the Bill and I will continue to defend human rights.
- Beth Winter will address the Stand Up to Racism Anti-Racism Day demonstration in Cardiff on 18th March.Other Stand Up to Racism demonstrations take place in London and Glasgow.
- Beth Winter is the MP for Cynon Valley and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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