The House of Lords had their second day of voting on amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill (NBB) on 2nd March.
The second day of report stage addressed sections two and three of the NBB, relating to the asylum system, refugee status determination and border control. This follows the first day of voting on 28th February (which we’ve summarised here), where amendments on differentiated treatment (the two-tier system), citizenship deprivation and refugees’ right to work were voted through. Report stage will conclude with one further date on 8th March. The amended version of the NBB will then return to the House of Commons soon after, where these amendments will either be accepted into the bill, or rejected and returned to the Lords for further debate.
1. Removal of Clause 15: Inadmissibility
Peers voted to remove the ‘inadmissibility clause’ from the NBB. This clause is intended to reinstate the power that the UK government had under EU Law (the Dublin agreement) to remove a person claiming asylum to a third safe country with which they have ‘a connection’. The UK government does not currently have any returns agreements with any other states, so the government could decide an asylum case is ‘inadmissible’, but then have no way of returning the claimant, so they will be stuck in limbo for an indefinite period.
2. Removal of Clause 28: Offshoring
The House of Lords also voted to remove a part of the NBB that would open up the possibility of accommodating asylum seekers outside the UK while their claims are being processed. There are no details yet about which countries asylum claimants may be removed to, or what conditions they would be greeted with on arrival there. In the words of one speaker, the House of Lords was being asked to sign a blank cheque, and they refused. The government also could not guarantee that children would not be included in those sent to offshore processing centres.
3. New Clause: Family Reunion for Unaccompanied Children
When the UK was part of the EU, there was a route within European asylum law for unaccompanied children in other EU states to be reunited with family members in the UK. This did not become part of British immigration law after Brexit, so there is now no legal route for unaccompanied children to reunite with family members in the UK. Adding in this new clause effectively brings back that old family reunion route. There was overwhelming support for Lord Dubs (who came to the UK himself as a child refugee on the Kindertransport) and his amendment in the Lords.
4. New Clause: Introducing an Annual Resettlement Target
The intention of this clause is to require the government to commit to a number of refugees to be resettled each year; 10,000 is considered to be the UK’s ‘fair share’. As the government has already committed to resettle 5,000 Afghan refugees per year, this would secure a commitment of an additional 5,000 refugees per year from elsewhere in the world.
5. Amending Clause 40: The ‘For Gain’ Argument
The current law states that it is a criminal offence to help an asylum seeker to enter the UK ‘for gain’. The Borders Bill seeks to remove the specification that it must be ‘for gain’, leading to widespread concern that organisations that save lives at sea, including RNLI, would be criminalised for bringing stranded people to UK shores. In line with these concerns, peers voted to keep the words ‘for gain’ in the legislation.
Further Votes and Amendments
Three further votes also took place. The first was to add a new clause to the bill that would allow asylum to be granted to a person who is judged by a UK court to be a victim of genocide. The second was to prevent the criminalisation of a person’s ‘arrival in’ the UK, rather than their ‘entry into’ the UK (a technical but important distinction). The third adds a caveat to the government’s new rules on maritime enforcement, specifying that any maritime enforcement powers ‘must not be used in a manner or in circumstances that could endanger life at sea.’
A number of other key amendments were debated but withdrawn, so therefore did not go to a vote. The first of these related to the late submission of evidence, requiring that concessions be made for those who submit evidence late due to trauma, memory problems, shame, fear, humiliation, etc. The second concerned the NBB’s intentions to raise the standard of proof required to consider a person eligible for refugee status, making it more difficult to prove an ongoing, well-founded fear of persecution. Advocates of these amendments detail the ways in which they impact disproportionately upon women who are fleeing gender-based violence.