UK Lords approve contentious asylum reforms

Bid to ensure new bill complied with UK’s obligations towards refugees was overturned in House of Lords

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent, on board the RNLI Lifeboat following a small boat incident in the Channel. PA
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Asylum and immigration reforms that have caused a great deal of debate in the UK are poised to become law after peers halted their stand-off.

The bruising tussle over the Nationality and Borders Bill ended after the House of Lords rejected by 212 to 157 a last-ditch bid to ensure provisions in the legislation complied with the UK’s international obligations towards refugees.

There were cries of “shame” from some peers as the result was announced.

Contentious provisions in the bill include offshoring asylum, with the government already having struck a deal with Rwanda, and making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally.

It also allows for asylum seekers to be treated differently based on how they entered the UK.

The bill had been mauled during its passage through the unelected chamber, but the changes made during the process known as parliamentary ping-pong were repeatedly overturned by the Commons, where the government has a majority.

This included an unsuccessful bid to enable asylum seekers to work if no decision had been taken on their claim after six months.

Disagreements over the legislation went to the wire, with the government wanting to prorogue Parliament on Thursday, ending the current parliamentary session.

Registering his continued opposition, Liberal Democrat Lord Paddick said: “In case this is my last opportunity to speak on this bill, may I say how appalled I am and disgusted I am by it.”

Labour former shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti, who led efforts to ensure the legislation complied with international human rights law, accused the Commons of giving “two fingers” to the Lords.

“We may be only a revising second chamber, and I do recognise that, but if not to defend the rule of law, what are we for?” she added.

“It seems to me that this House is being treated with contempt,” said veteran diplomat and independent cross-bencher Lord Kerr of Kinlochard.

While backing criticism of the bill, Labour front-bencher Lord Coaker said: “We have reached the time in the parliamentary process where we think sending it back a fourth time would not be the appropriate way forward.

“The battle will carry on. The campaign for a proper refugee system will carry on.

“The campaign will take place not only within this Parliament but in the various communities up and down this country as we fight to remain the global champion that we have always been and offer asylum to those people that deserve it and need it.”

Responding, Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said: “We believe that all provisions [in the bill] reflect a good faith, compatible interpretation of the Refugee Convention.

“I think that it is time to pass this bill.”

Her call sparked shouts of “no” from a number of peers.

Having cleared the Lords, the legislation now goes for royal assent.

Speaking outside the chamber, Mike Adamson, chief executive at British Red Cross, said: “We are deeply disappointed that the Nationality and Borders Bill will be passing into law because of the detrimental impact it will have on people seeking asylum in the UK.

“We believe a person’s need for protection and therefore their ability to claim asylum should be judged on the dangers they have faced, and not on how they enter this country.”

In addition to the recent announcement to remove people to Rwanda on a one-way ticket, he added, there are ever increasing barriers to refugees receiving protection in the UK.

“The passing of this heinous bill is a devastating blow for families fleeing conflict and persecution,” said Sam Nadel, of Oxfam.

“The government should be protecting, not punishing, refugees … It is yet another example of the UK reneging on its promises.

“The horrific conflict in Ukraine has inspired huge public support for those seeking refuge and is a reminder of the importance of a fair asylum system and the need for more safe and legal routes.”

Updated: April 27, 2022, 8:34 PM