Government suffers string of defeats at Lords over immigration overhaul
Peers inflicted a string of defeats on the government’s controversial immigration overhaul. Among the measures rejected by the House of Lords were a decision to treat asylum seekers differently depending on whether they entered the UK legally or ‘illegally’ and a proposal allowing people to be stripped of their UK citizenship without Warning.
The votes took place against a backdrop of thousands of Ukrainian civilians fleeing the conflict with Russia and criticism of the Interior Minister’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis. The rejection of key reforms contained in the landmark Citizenship and Borders Bill sets the stage for a long round of parliamentary ping-pong, where legislation passes between the unelected chamber and the Commons.
The government had argued that the planned differentiation in the treatment of asylum seekers, depending on how they arrived in the country, was intended to discourage people from traveling to the UK other than through safe and legal, given the persistent problem of Channel crossings. But the measure drew heavy criticism from the Lords.
Refugee activist and Labor peer Lord Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a child on the Kindertransport scheme, said: ‘It’s complete nonsense, it’s not achievable and it diminishes this country in the eyes of the world.” Independent MP Lord Russell for Liverpool said: ‘We are behaving in a way which I frankly find shameful.
But Home Secretary Baroness Williams of Trafford argued the provision ‘strikes a strong balance between toughness and fairness’. The peers rejected the government’s decision by 204 votes to 126, majority 78.
The Lords also defeated the government by demanding the scrapping of a controversial plan that would allow people to be stripped of their British citizenship without warning. The peers backed by 209 votes to 173, a majority of 36, a decision to scrap the proposed power, contained in section 9 of the legislation, despite ministers agreeing to a series of safeguards.
Among the critics was the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who said: “I am fully confident that the impact this clause will have, in fact it has already had, in terms of continuing to undermine trust between the Home Office and civil society is serious enough that the bill would be greatly improved if Article 9 were removed in its entirety. But former terrorism law watchdog and Independent MP Lord Carlile of Berriew said: ‘Deleting section 9 of the bill leaves the unattractive proposition that even where another nationality is available , individuals should have the right to betray this country and be terrorists against the country’s interests.”
Former Conservative chairwoman Baroness Warsi, who was Britain’s first female Muslim minister, said: ‘What this law does is that in the UK, in our courts, we punish differently two people convicted of the same crime based on their heritage.” She added: “We may not have used this moment to right past wrongs, but the least we can do is prevent bad law from getting worse.”
Lord Paddick, a Liberal Democrat peer and former senior police commander, said: ‘Ultimately the Government should take ownership of the actions of British citizens, including terrorists overseas, ensuring as much as possible possible for them to be extradited to the UK for trial rather than stripping them of UK citizenship, preventing them from returning to the UK and making them another country’s problem, whether with or without notice. Labor leader Lord Rosser said: “The consequences of this clause are likely to be felt most, but certainly not exclusively, by people from ethnic minorities.
“It is not surprising that it is in this area that the Bill and Section 9 have raised the most concern about how the new powers might be applied and interpreted and what evidence there is that they are needed now and were not needed before.” In response, Lady Williams insisted that law-abiding people had nothing to fear from the provision.
Stressing that there were people who posed a threat to the UK, she said: ‘It’s just not fair that our hands are tied because we can’t take their UK citizenship away from them without telling them. of this decision.” The government was also defeated by peers demanding that descendants of exiled Chagos islanders be entitled to British citizenship.
In another setback for the Conservative administration, the upper house backed a change aimed at ensuring the bill complies with international protections for refugees. The peers also challenged the government by backing a cross-party decision to allow asylum seekers to work if no decision had been made on their claim after six months. The easing of restrictions was supported by 112 votes to 89, majority 23.
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