Members of the House of Lords debated and voted on key sections of the Nationality and Borders Bill (NBB) late into the evening of the 28th February.

They covered the first two sections of the bill, relating to British citizenship and asylum/refugees. Five key amendments were voted through with resounding majorities on the first day, a clear indication of the flaws in the government’s plan to overhaul the asylum system.

1. New Clause: Provision for Chagos Islanders to acquire British Nationality

This new clause specifically relates to Chagos Islanders who missed out on acquiring British nationality because their grandparents or great-grandparents were evicted from their homeland in the British Indian Ocean Territories 60 years ago. It would allow anyone who is descended from a person born before 1983 on Chagos Island to register as a British overseas territories citizen and/or as a British citizen. If passed, it will go some way to righting a grievous historical wrong.

2. Removal of Clause 9: Deprivation of Citizenship

The House of Lords voted to remove from the NBB a clause which would allow the Secretary of State to deprive a person of British citizenship without notifying them of their decision to do so. Peers were particularly concerned about the vagueness of the original clause, which states that the government would not need to notify someone of their deprivation of citizenship if doing so is not considered to be ‘in the public interest’.

3. New Clause: Compliance with the Refugee Convention

Peers voted to add a new clause to the NBB which requires that everything in Part Two of the bill – the part that deals with refugees and asylum – must comply with the UK’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol. This new clause is the result of many, many speeches made in the House of Lords raising concerns that the NBB breaches – or at least reinterprets beyond recognition – international refugee law.  It is borne from a stalemate by which the government continues to insist that the NBB is compatible with the Refugee Convention, while UNHCR – the guardians of the Convention – strongly disagree.

4. Removal of Clause 11: Differentiated Treatment 

Clause 11 is one of the most dramatic and egregious parts of the NBB, reflected in the Lords’ desire to remove it from the final version of the bill. Clause 11 would introduce ‘differentiated treatment’ into asylum law, which would allow the Home Office to discriminate between people seeking asylum based on their means of arrival to the UK. Those who arrive via indirect routes would not be entitled to full refugee status. As Lord Judge pointed out in his speech, this means that no Ukrainian refugees would be entitled to full refugee status in the UK because there are currently no direct flights from Ukraine to the UK. Any Ukrainian arriving in the UK via Poland or Romania would automatically be ineligible for full refugee status because they journeyed through a ‘safe first country’. We are delighted that the Lords have voted to scrap Clause 11; now it’s time to lobby our MPs to keep Clause 11 out of the NBB when it returns to the Commons in around 3 weeks’ time.

5. New Clause: #LifttheBan

Members from all sides of the House of Lords, including a number of Conservative peers, voted in favour of adding a clause to the NBB that would allow people seeking asylum to take up employment if they have been waiting longer than six months for a decision on their asylum claim. Their working conditions must be ‘no less favourable than the terms granted to a person with recognised refugee status.’ This is a massive step forward for the #LiftTheBan campaign, which has been tirelessly emphasising the benefits of granting the  60,000+ people who have been waiting over six months for a decision on their asylum application the right to work.