By Hari Reed, Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

As the Illegal Migration Bill enters its final stages, now is your last chance to lobby your MP.

What happened this week?

The Illegal Migration Bill (IMB), the proposed legislation behind Sunak’s pledge to ‘Stop the Boats’, is currently in the ‘ping pong’ stage of the parliamentary process. (This is when a bill bounces rapidly back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as the finer details are fought over.)

The House of Lords concluded their appraisal of the IMB on Monday 10th July. It returned to the Commons on Tuesday with 20 amendments. The Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, even accused the Lords of trying to ‘wreck the legislation’. Over the course of 18 votes, the Commons rejected every single one of the Lords’ amendments. MPs from all minority parties spoke out strongly against the bill and there were some significant rebellions from the Conservative Party. This marks only the second time ever that former PM Theresa May has voted against her party.

Prior to the debate on Tuesday, a number of last-minute concessions were also made: the 72-hour time limit on detaining pregnant women was retained; unaccompanied children would be permitted to apply for immigration bail after 8 days in detention; plans to backdate the removal of new arrivals to March ’23 were scrapped.

What issues are being argued over?

The amendments made by the Lords can be grouped into five categories: safe and legal routes; protecting children; protecting vulnerable groups; modern slavery; compliance with international obligations.

1. Safe and legal routes: The Lords voted to insert a clause into the IMB which would require ministers to create safe and legal routes to the UK. Conservative Peer Baroness Stroud asserted that ‘The moral credibility of the entire bill depends on the existence of the creation of more safe and legal routes.

2. Protecting children: The Lords made a number of amendments to the bill designed to safeguard children. They voted to: allow asylum claims from unaccompanied children; retain the right to appeal decisions on age assessments; limit the government’s power to transfer a child from local authority care into government accommodation; ban the detention of unaccompanied children for longer than 24 hours.

3. Protecting vulnerable groups: The Lords introduced an amendment that would prevent the relocation of LGBT+ refugees to countries which have anti-LGBT laws.

4. Modern slavery: The IMB’s treatment of victims of modern slavery has been hotly debated. Conservative MPs have made strong claims about the damage that the IMB, if passed, would do to protections for modern slavery and trafficking victims. The Lords introduced amendments that would prevent victims of modern slavery from being automatically removed to third countries, whilst keeping intact the National Referral Mechanism for potential trafficking victims.

5. Compliance with international obligations: The Lords voted to insert a new clause into the IMB that would prevent the new legislation from conflicting with our international human rights obligations. This comes after the government’s Rwanda plan suffered a defeat in the Court of Appeal.

What happens next?

The Bill bounced back to the Lords on Wednesday 12th July, where nine further amendments were approved. These will go back to the House of Commons on Monday 17th.

As it reaches its final stages, the wide-ranging debates over the IMB boil down to these nine demands:

1. The IMB must be compatible with (a) the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; (b) the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees including the Protocol to that Convention; (c) the 1954 and 1961 UN Conventions on the Reduction of Statelessness; (d) the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; (e) the 2005 Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking Human Beings.

2. Individuals who are ‘inadmissible’ under the IMB but have not been removed to a third country after six months must have their asylum claim processed in the UK.

3. LGBT+ asylum claimants must not be moved to countries where they would face persecution based on their sexuality or gender identity. Specifically, ‘LGBT persons must not be removed to Gambia, Ghana, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda or Sierra Leone.’

4. Unaccompanied children cannot be detained for a period of more than 72 hours.

5. Children accompanied by their families cannot be detained for a period of more than 96 hours.

6. Victims of modern slavery are permitted to remain in the UK for a period after the exploitation has been identified.

7. The Home Secretary must specify additional safe and legal routes within three months of the legislation passing.

8. The National Crime Agency must publish information about their progress in combatting ‘organised immigration crime’ every six months.

9. The Home Secretary must create a ten-year strategy for addressing irregular migration in partnership with other signatories to the Refugee Convention. Parliament will break for summer recess on July 19 so the whole process may be rushed through by Wednesday.

Write to your MP now!

✍️ You can help by letting your MP know that you want them to vote in favour of these amendments. (You can find your MP here.)

  • Tell them that you believe our laws should comply with our international human rights commitments.
  • That children shouldn’t be locked up in detention centres.
  • That LGBT refugees shouldn’t be sent to countries where they are in danger.
  • That we can’t turn our backs on victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
  • That we need a significant expansion of safe and legal routes.
  • And, finally, that we want to see refugees protected, not punished.

If you need help emailing your MP, contact Hari on <>.

P.S. If you’re wondering how your Oxfordshire MP voted on Tuesday, Anneliese Dodds voted in support of all the amendments, Layla Moran was not present and Victoria Prentis, Robert Courts, David Johnston and John Howell all voted against the amendments.