The Nationality and Borders Bill returned to the House of Commons on Tuesday 22nd March, where MPs voted on the House of Lords’ amendments to the Bill. While the government faced strong criticism and a number of rebellions led by former Conservative ministers, in the end, all of the Lords amendments were rejected.

A majority of MPs voted in favour of offshore detention centres and a two-tier system that treats refugees differently based on their means of arrival. A majority of MPs voted against giving refugees the right to work, establishing a resettlement target of 10,000 refugees per year, and creating a safe route for unaccompanied children in Europe to join family members in the UK.

Sabir Zazai, CEO of Scottish Refugee Council, has said that ‘This vote is a wake-up call for ministers to rethink this cruel bill – and reflects much deeper unease amongst the government’s own MPs. The Prime Minister ignores this at his peril. He now needs to listen to most voters who want a kinder, more effective approach towards refugees.’

Now the Bill will go back to the House of Lords to be considered again, then returned again to MPs, in a process known as ‘ping pong’ (have a look at our ‘One Last Push’ campaign for ideas about what you can do next). While MPs were debating the Bill, refugee support organisations all over the UK were demonstrating their support for refugees by turning landmarks orange, protesting, holding events and speaking out.

Landmarks in Tyneside lit up in orange in solidarity with refugees, (c) Good Cause Comms.

The government says that the Borders Bill is their response to the desires and priorities of British people. Yet recent research into public attitudes towards refugees in the UK tells a different story.* Polls conducted by Ipsos, in collaboration with British Future, found that 74% of Britons believe people should be able to take refuge in other countries, including Britain, to escape war or persecution, while only 16% disagreed. A majority (56%) also had sympathy for people attempting to cross the Channel, compared to 39% who said they had little or no sympathy.

This is of particular significance because Clause 11 of the Borders Bill would make people crossing the Channel in boats ineligible for full refugee protection. Only 34% of people, in fact, support the concept of ‘differentiated treatment’, by which those who arrive through irregular routes would be treated differently to those arriving through official resettlement programmes. 31% of people oppose such a system, while 37% support keeping our current system.

One of the government’s key ambitions for the Borders Bill is to deter people from seeking asylum in the UK by removing the so-called ‘pull factors’ that encourage people to do so. However, more people believe that the UK should have an asylum system that is fair, even if that means allowing more asylum seekers to stay and live in the UK than we do now (46%), than believe that we should create an asylum system that deters people from seeking asylum in the UK (32%).

The Borders Bill is set to replace the right to full refugee status for all asylum applicants with ‘bespoke’ schemes for specific groups, such as the ACRS scheme for Afghans and the UFS scheme for Ukrainians. However, the research shows that there is actually little appetite to take more refugees in from UN resettlement schemes. Only 30% of people support the expansion of UN resettlement schemes, while nearly half (47%) were supportive of allowing asylum claims to be made from outside the UK through routes other than the UN, for example by applying for a new ‘type of visa’ or making an asylum claim at British embassies. 

The findings from this research show that there continues to be public support for refugee protection, challenging the government’s message that the Nationality and Borders Bill is delivering on the people’s priorities. The findings indicate a somewhat hopeful picture of public opinion towards asylum seekers and refugees; it seems the public does not want the toughest approaches towards asylum policy.

* Further findings and details on the research can be found in the report, at British Future and at Ipsos. The research was the latest wave of the Ipsos immigration attitudes tracker, a survey that has been tracking public attitudes towards immigration since 2015. 3,206 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain took part in the survey, which was carried out between 28th January and 10th February 2022 – before the invasion of Ukraine.

Prepared by Eliska Holland, Advocacy Volunteer