Dave Smith
What you need to know about the Nationality and Borders Bill: a briefing from Jubilee+.

What stage is the bill at?

On March 24th 2021 the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a New Plan for Immigration in the House of Commons. She set out further details to Parliament on May 25th, and the draft version of the Nationality and Borders Bill was put before the Commons on 6th July, where it had its first reading. The second reading followed on July 19th, and was passed the following day by 366 votes to 265, a majority of 101.

Government is now in summer recess, and reconvenes on 6th September. At this point it will be scrutinised in Committee Stages, before going to the Lords, then back to the Commons for a final vote sometime in the autumn.

What is the Bill about?

Priti Patel says that the UK immigration system is broken, and needs fixing. Most people would agree with that, though many will disagree that the proposed changes will fix it. Although the bill is 67 pages long, these are the main proposals:

  • Newly arrived asylum seekers will have their claims processed in large reception centres rather than being dispersed around the country. The idea of removing them to offshore processing centres hundreds of miles from the UK was originally mooted, but wasn’t mentioned in Priti Patel’s last speech.
  • Those who arrive ‘illegally’, e.g. on dinghies across the channel or in the back of lorries, will no longer be entitled to the same benefits as now. Their case may be considered ‘inadmissable’, and even if their asylum claim is accepted, they would only be entitled to temporary protected status, not indefinite leave to remain. The idea is to deter ‘illegal’ entry and thus break up people smuggling gangs. Illegal entry may be punishable by up to four years in prison, and ‘facilitating’ illegal entry will also be criminalised.
  • Those who come on resettlement schemes will be given indefinite leave to remain. The emphasis will be entirely on resettlement, thus creating a two-tier asylum system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ refugees, depending solely on how they enter the UK.
  • Deportations will happen faster, either to the country of origin or the first safe country that the asylum seeker passed through. Attempts to prevent deportations through further appeals or judicial reviews will not be allowed, and solicitors who put in last-minute claims may have their fees seized.
  • Foreign national offenders will be removed faster. The law will be amended to prevent their deportations being thwarted.

What’s Good about the Bill?

  • All refugee organisations agree that creating more resettlement schemes is a good idea, and taking in more people through safe routes is needed. However, so far there is no commitment to any targets, and the only new schemes are to bring up to 100 skilled refugees from Lebanon, or for the Afghans who helped the British forces and are now liable to be killed by advancing Taliban.
  • Tidying up historic injustices around British Citizenship for those from British Oversees Territories and other inconsistences in immigration matters is also welcome.
  • Faster removal of foreign national offenders sounds like a good idea too, though we should be wary of sending them back to countries where justice consists of brutal punishment.

What’s Bad about the Bill?

Over 300 organisations have joined together under the Coalition Banner Together With Refugees to oppose the bill, including Jubilee+ and many other Christian groups and churches.

  • If the reception centres proposed are old barracks and army camps like the ones used recently by the Home Office, they will be totally unsuitable. Using dormitories with up to 14 beds during a pandemic, with shared toilets, led to 200 cases of Covid-19. A recent Home Affairs Committee slated the use of the barracks, and the Prisons Watchdog cited ‘fundamental failings’ in the management.
  • The two-tier system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ refugees will criminalise genuine refugees. At the moment more than 60% of UK asylum seekers are granted refugee status: most have come here ‘illegally’, because they have no other way of coming. There are no legal routes available to them. That’s why the UN Convention on Refugees recognises that illegal entry and the use of people smugglers may be necessary.
  • Faster asylum decisions do not mean fairer decisions. Asylum seekers rarely see a solicitor before their initial interview, and are told little about how the system works. Getting proof of your claim takes time: genuine refugees can’t leave their country with the evidence, because it would be dangerous if caught. Once here, they need time and support to get that evidence.
  • The way to unclog the system is not to be harsher and faster – 40% of initial refusals are overturned on appeal at tribunal. If more time was spent getting the initial decisions right, there would be less appeals, and the system would also cost far less, which the Home Secretary is keen to see happen.
  • There are likely to be far more deportations – but not to the first safe country, because we are no longer in the EU, so EU countries have no obligation to take people back. Indeed, why should they, since they already have far more asylum seekers per capita than we do? The alternative, removal to their country of origin, will lead to many being imprisoned, tortured or killed as enemies of the state.

Why should Christians be concerned?

Two reasons, really –

  • The Bible is clear that we should welcome strangers. (Matthew 25:31-46 and Hebrews 13:2). Nor does it differentiate between different categories of stranger!
  • The direction of travel in the UK immigration policy is towards an inward-looking state that prioritises border enforcement rather than welcome and criminalisation rather than compassion.

What can be done?

  • First and foremost, pray. There are several months before a final vote to make the bill law. Prayer is powerful, and breaks down strongholds. It saved the country from invasion in World War Two: it can save refugees from the impact of this bill too.
  • Secondly, write to your MP, especially if your MP is a Conservative. This is a helpful guide from IMIX. You could even ask for a meeting: find some like-minded people, and go as a delegation. If they won’t accept the request, you can still turn up at their surgery! No MP should refuse to see a constituent. They need to know the strength of opinion against such unjust legislation.
  • Keep up to date with developments, We’ll try to do that on this website, but you can also follow Together With Refugees. They will have many campaign ideas as the bill proceeds. If you have responsibility for a church or a refugee support group, you might like to sign up to the coalition or sign the Christian response letter to Priti Patel.