New Plan for Immigration

We will collate reports of the Nationality & Borders Bill which has come out of the recent ‘New Plan for Immigration’.

Updated 20 July 2021: This lays out Priti Patel’s view of what should come, as the debate on the Bill begins in Parliament: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/home-secretary-opening-speech-for-nationality-borders-bill

This was the debate in Parliament: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-07-19/debates/FC19E458-F75D-480D-A20D-CD1E7ADC937E/NationalityAndBordersBill

You can follow the passage of this Bill here: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3023


Updated 11 July 2021: Guardian: Home Office ‘acting unlawfully’ in rush to deport asylum seekers

Hundreds of people arriving in England in small boats are being immediately detained in immigration removal centres, raising fears of a new, secret Home Office policy to deport them without their asylum claims being properly considered.

Among the detainees are apparent trafficking and torture victims from countries including Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, who would normally be allowed asylum accommodation in the community while their claims are processed but instead are effectively imprisoned.

Children are also among those who have crossed the Channel and have been sent directly to immigration removal centres, with solicitors claiming the Home Office has classed minors as adults despite not age-assessing them in person.

Some small-boat asylum seekers have been denied access to a lawyer since early May after landing and being immediately detained in a removal centre.

Campaigners said the development was “not the act of a civilised and compassionate nation”.

The outcry follows the publication of home secretary Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill on Tuesday. It claims to reform the asylum system but has been described by the UN as having an “almost neocolonial approach” in allowing the UK to shirk its international responsibilities to refugees.

Immigration lawyers say the apparent undisclosed policy change, which appears to have been introduced over the past two months, is unlawful and they are preparing to challenge it.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis, described it as a potentially “grave abuse of power”.

Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/11/home-office-acting-unlawfully-in-rush-to-deport-asylum-seekers


10 July 2021: One Strong Voice: a petition from people with lived experience of the asylum system, with a vision for how that system could be based on welcome and compassion:

This government’s Anti Refugee Bill would be the most destructive reforms to an already broken asylum system in a generation.

This is our 7-point plan for a UK that welcomes refugees:

Read more here: https://www.onestrongvoice.org.uk/petition


10 July 2021: The Times: CPS blows hole in Priti Patel’s asylum seeker bill

Priti Patel’s laws to crack down on asylum seekers crossing the Channel were dealt a blow yesterday when the Crown Prosecution Service said that it would no longer prosecute migrants.

An agreement struck between police, prosecutors, the National Crime Agency, Border Force and the Home Office over cases involving “illegal entry” will also apply to those arriving by lorry.

Read more: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cps-blows-hole-in-priti-patels-asylum-seeker-bill-8lggcmj5b


7 July 2021: Westminster Hall debate: Debate: Delays in the asylum system

Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered delays in the asylum system.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Mundell. I thank the many Members attending the debate for their ongoing efforts to push the Government to address the delays in the asylum system. It is shocking that not a single Conservative Member thought it necessary to take part in a debate on such an important issue.

I pay tribute to the many organisations and charities that campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue, as well as those—including the Refugee Council, Detention Action, the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, and Lift the Ban, to name just a few—that provide vital support to some of the most vulnerable people on our planet. So many people are worthy of recognition for their incredible work, such as Councillor Wilson Nkurunziza, Councillor Irfan Syed and Stockport’s own Mrs Sandy Broadhurst. There are also those who do so much at national level to keep the issue at the forefront of everyone’s minds, such as Lord Alf Dubs.

In my region, Refugee Action Manchester and the Refugee Council provide life-saving and life-changing support to asylum seekers, while Stockport Baptist church in my constituency has done so much over the years to help to raise funds to provide accommodation, food, pocket money and transport to those in need. I am grateful to the volunteers from the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, who support the incredibly vulnerable people who are subject to immigration control. Significantly, they have worked with local authorities across Greater Manchester, and seven of the 10 councils have signed up to remote asylum interviewing for looked-after children: Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford and Wigan.

Our country has a proud history of standing up for and protecting refugees, who are among the most vulnerable people on earth, having undertaken perilous journeys to reach our shores to seek sanctuary from the very worst of humanity. We are the fifth richest country in the world and that is absolutely the right thing to do. It is also right that our country provides shelter to people—not excluding them, but enabling them to earn a living to support themselves and their family.

I am proud that my part of the world, the north-west, is the largest asylum dispersal conurbation in the UK, housing 25% of our country’s applicants, with 70% of those living in Greater Manchester. Data provided by the House of Commons Library reveals that 138 asylum seekers are based in Stockport and more than 6,000 in Greater Manchester as a whole, which is two thirds of the total in the north-west region. It is heart-warming to see how my community has embraced those people and helped them to integrate into our community. I have long been an admirer of the work of Stockport Baptist church, whose congregation and supporters have raised funds to support refugees with food, pocket money, accommodation and transport costs.

It cannot be right, however, that so many are simply stuck in the system for long periods, unsure of what their fate will be. Detention Action revealed that more than half of the almost 40,000 people in detention centres have been waiting for a decision for more than a year. A similar number have been waiting for up to five years, with almost 25,000 people indefinitely detained last year.

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid provides urgent assistance to more than 50 young people who have been waiting the best part of a year for an asylum decision, despite half already having had a remote interview. Even when the asylum system is functioning marginally more efficiently, the average wait for those handled by my local unit is 51 days, with the longest wait being 82 days—almost three months. That is completely unacceptable, and it involves the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in our society, including young people.

It is vital that the Government look again at how those in the system are treated. One issue that must be addressed is the Aspen card handover debacle. I focus on that issue because it reflects many of the problems in the system. Aspen is a debit payment card given to UK asylum seekers by the Home Office to provide basic subsistence support via a chip-and-pin system. However, purchases made using the card are closely monitored by the Home Office, making it an insidious surveillance tool. Recently, the Home Office switched providers, which proved nothing short of disastrous owing to the 48-hour period between the old card being deactivated and the new one going live, forcing people to live off what little means they had.

That is just one of myriad problems, from claimants not receiving their cards to their receiving cards carrying the wrong name, cards without money on them or cards that do not work, or people being unable to activate their cards. When cards were not working, asylum seekers could apply for emergency cash payments from accommodation providers, but those have been inconsistently applied and people could not access any more payments. There are stories from the Refugee Council of such people having to survive for days without food.

That is an absolute disgrace, and it can never be allowed to happen again. Why was it even allowed to happen in the first place? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question today. However, well before the card changeover took place, multiple organisations forewarned the Home Office that there could be problems, and it is clear they were simply not listened to. When the matter was raised in Parliament, the Government attempted to give the impression that it was a minor issue, rather than one that had gone on for weeks. Their claims could not be further from the truth, with many asylum experts describing the Government’s handling of the issue as the worst failure they have seen in the system. That is why the likes of Asylum Matters are continuing to raise awareness of it—they want the Home Office not only to acknowledge its failings, but to learn from them so that we never again put the neediest people in society in this desperate situation.

There are also well documented and widespread concerns about the way women are dealt with in the asylum process, particularly whether that process is sensitive to specific issues faced by women. The expectation that a woman has been the victim of domestic abuse or rape, and will be able to disclose that during her interview with a UK visa and immigration caseworker, has been pointed to as a serious problem.

There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. We must acknowledge that these are incredibly vulnerable people in the most desperate of circumstances and act accordingly. That means shining a light on the failings of the system, rather than demonising those within it. Just last month, asylum seekers held at the Home Office’s widely criticised Napier military barracks claimed they would be blacklisted if they spoke out following the High Court ruling that to use the site was unlawful. That included them being told that their asylum application would be at risk if they talked to the media about conditions at the camp. Instead of attacking those in the barracks who are in conditions described as “squalid” during the successful legal challenge, the Government should have acted immediately to close the camp.

The failures in our system cause untold distress and are a considerable factor in the high levels of mental health problems among asylum seekers. Refugees are five times more likely to have mental health needs than people in the general UK population, while 61% report that they have suffered serious mental distress as a result of their ordeal, including higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

The way the Government treat asylum seekers in this country—the fifth richest in the world—is truly shameful. That lack of humanity was exposed during the 2015 migrant crisis when our European counterparts, such as Germany, showed benevolence, true compassion and leadership by giving asylum to more than 1 million people fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. In stark contrast, the UK allowed a paltry 25,000 the safety and sanctuary of our shores.

I am sure Members on both sides of the House agree that on this issue language is important. Asylum seekers are people—fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and in a fair manner—and following a decade when we have experienced the hostile environment orchestrated by the Home Office under this Government, I urge the Minister to do the right thing and offer those people a route out of poverty and destitution.

We do not need more distressing words and scenes from the Home Secretary. Sadly, just yesterday, we bore witness to the Home Secretary’s latest demonisation of migrants, with her shamefully describing those vulnerable people as “vile criminals”, smearing the vast majority of honest, law-abiding citizens who seek sanctuary in our country. As HOPE not hate made clear in its response, the Home Secretary’s words were disgraceful.

The Home Secretary also set out callous plans with proposals revealed for new legislation that will pave the way for offshore centres for asylum seekers, and criminal charges for migrants arriving in the UK without permission. The new laws will likely see thousands of refugees turned away and vulnerable migrants criminalised for seeking a better life. Furthermore, a Refugee Council analysis of Home Office data suggests that 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under the current rules—those confirmed by official checks to have left war and persecution—might no longer be given safety in the UK because of how they arrived. That really would be an all-time low for this Government.

The Government must do more to enable those seeking asylum to have the right to work. Last year, the Lift the Ban campaign—a coalition of more than 240 charities and trade unions, including Unison, the National Education Union and the NASUWT, as well as businesses, faith groups and think-tanks—presented the Home Office with a petition signed by more than 180,000 people, which called on the Government to lift the ban. They are still waiting for that ban to be overturned, which is why I recently tabled an early-day motion, which has been signed by 42 MPs to date. It calls on the Government to

“recognise the injustice of preventing people seeking asylum from working”,

particularly when they are forced to live on a derisory £5.66 a day. After all, that is in the Government’s own interest: if those seeking asylum had the right to work, that would lead to fewer support payments and increased income tax and national insurance receipts of up to £100 million for the public purse.

The bottom line is that the pandemic has exposed the harsh reality that asylum seekers cannot be safe under such restrictive rules. Far from being looked after, they are forced to depend on tiny handouts each day and to choose between food, medicine and hygiene products, while being prevented from having the dignity of work.

The Government must do far more to address their unfair dispersal system. The majority of asylum seekers are housed in disadvantaged local authority areas while dozens of councils support none at all. Figures show that more than half of those who seek asylum or who have been brought to Britain for resettlement are accommodated by just 6% of local councils, all of which have household incomes that are below average.

Finally, the Government must heed the United Nations Human Rights Council proposal to reform the registration, screening and decision making process, including introducing an effective triaging and prioritisation system, as well as simplified asylum case processing and front-loading the asylum system to enable more information to be gathered earlier in the process.

It is time our Government stopped their gunboat diplomacy and treated asylum seekers with the dignity and humanity that they deserve. When most are fleeing war-torn countries that the UK helped to play a role in devastating, that is surely the very least we can do.

[…] read the full debate

Navendu Mishra  closing speech

I am incredibly grateful to all hon. Members who contributed to the debate and brought many powerful stories from constituency casework. I thank the Minister for his contribution, although I must highlight that he did not comment on the Aspen card disaster and people being left without food or hygiene products, or on my remarks on the special requirements for women asylum seekers fleeing domestic abuse and rape. The one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. Asylum seekers and refugees are five times more likely than British nationals to have serious mental health issues.

Clearly, there is a lot of appetite among MPs for the Government to lift the ban on people working. Just over £5 a day is simply unacceptable. We also want to see an end to the toxic and divisive language from the Home Office, the Home Secretary and some MPs on the Government Benches. Treating people like insects is not acceptable; everyone deserves decency and respect. We also want proper financial support for local authorities that support asylum seekers. We have a system whereby some local authorities support asylum seekers and will accept them, while others do not—that needs to be changed. We need reform to the system.

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-07-07/debates/E660849B-8111-4A50-A764-9E674EEF79EB/DelaysInTheAsylumSystem?highlight=delays%20asylum%20system#contribution-96AD353B-CDE7-413C-944A-B6A99A6485C6


Update 7 July 2021: Guardian: UK to block visas for countries refusing to take back asylum seekers

Bill would give home secretary power to take action against citizens of countries deemed not to be cooperating …

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, described the plans as “dripping with cruelty” and an “affront to the caring people in this country who want a kinder, fairer approach to refugees”.


Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jul/06/uk-to-block-visas-from-countries-refusing-to-take-back-undocumented-migrants


Update 6 July 2021: Free Movement: The Nationality and Borders Bill 2021: first impressions

The much-hyped Nationality and Borders Bill is here. It mainly addresses asylum issues but there are some nationality provisions included as well, which we have already covered and will return to in another article soon.

My first impressions, reading through the Bill, are that

  1. A lot of it is already law so it isn’t actually very new at all.
  2. The bits that are new are likely to lead to a lot of uncertainty and litigation, which is good for lawyers but bad for refugees and the public purse.
  3. There is some genuine nastiness included.
  4. The Bill will only worsen the problems with the United Kingdom’s current asylum system.

The major problem with that system is that it takes far too long for the Home Office to decide an asylum claim. The number of people waiting more than 12 months for an initial decision was over 33,000 last year (ten times the number in 2010), according to recent research by the Refugee Council. This is bad for genuine refugees. It is, arguably, good for those whose cases ultimately fail.

Read more here: https://www.freemovement.org.uk/the-nationality-and-borders-bill-2021-first-impressions/


Refugee Council: The Nationality and Borders Bill – A devastating day for refugee protection

[…]

Next steps and how we fight back

The publication of the bill marks the start of its journey through Parliament, and MPs will debate the proposoals in the near future. This is the first opportunity to show the strength of opposition to these changes, and you can call on your MP to stand up for refugees here.

However, the campaign for a fair asylum system, with refugee protection at its heart, does not begin or end in Parliament. We want to build a mass campaign of people that won’t stand by while the Government turns its back on those who need protection. Please keep an eye out for more on this in the coming months from us.


Priti Patel’s statement can be found here: https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-07-06/hcws151


Update 6 July 2021: Guardian: Judge tells Priti Patel to bring asylum seeker back to UK

High court says home secretary should use her ‘best endeavours’ to bring back Sudanese man so his trafficking and torture claims can be investigated

Priti Patel should bring back to the UK a small boat asylum seeker who was removed to France in the next 14 days, the high court has ruled.

In a ruling published on Tuesday, the day that Patel launched her nationality and borders bill, which she hopes will make it easier to remove asylum seekers who arrive in small boats, Mr Justice Wall ordered that the home secretary use her “best endeavours” to bring back a 38-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker from Darfur who can only be identified by the initials AA.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/06/asylum-seeker-removed-by-priti-patel-must-be-brought-back-to-uk


Update 4 July 2021: Today’s suggestions from Priti Patel: the proposed legislation intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.

The Government also plans to also increase the tariff for people smugglers, with those found guilty facing life behind bars – up from the current maximum of 14 years.


Independent: Priti Patel announces harsher sentences for migrants in bid to deter Channel crossings

Migrants caught arriving in the UK without permission could face up to four years in prison under legislation, but charities say asylum-seekers are forced to risk lives due to lack of safe routes

The home secretary has announced that migrants seeking to cross the English Channel on small boats, and the people-smugglers enabling them, are to face more severe prison sentence in a bid to deter illegal crossings.

The move is part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, and is intended to fix the UK’s “broken asylum system” Priti Patel said.

Read more: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/priti-patel-illegal-channel-crossing-b1877753.html


The Herald: Priti Patel announces harsher sentences for migrants in bid to deter Channel crossings

Migrants seeking to make their way to the UK on small boats, and their people-smuggling enablers, will face heavier prison sentences in a bid to prevent “asylum shopping”, the Home Office has announced.

The stricter enforcements form part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is due for its first reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s pledge to “fix” the UK’s “broken asylum system”.

The proposed legislation intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.

The Government also plans to also increase the tariff for people smugglers, with those found guilty facing life behind bars – up from the current maximum of 14 years.

The Home Office said the sterner punishments were a bid to prevent “asylum shopping”, claiming that some migrants are allegedly “picking the UK as a preferred destination over others” when asylum could have been claimed earlier in their journey through Europe.

A clause contained in the legislation will broaden the offence of arriving unlawfully so that it encompasses arrival, as well as entry into the UK.

The moves is designed allow those who are intercepted in UK territorial seas to be brought into the country to be prosecuted, aides said.

Read more: https://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/19418476.priti-patel-announces-harsher-sentences-migrants-bid-deter-channel-crossings/


Updated 13 May 2021: Quakers reject New Plan for Immigration

Quakers in Britain and the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN) have criticised the government’s immigration plans.

Quakers in Britain and the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN) have criticised the government’s immigration plans.

Believing in the sanctity of all human life, Quakers believe that the current immigration and asylum system should be replaced by a compassionate, human rights-based approach. But the the government’s New Plan for Immigration is designed to increase hostility rather than create a fair system.

Quakers are particularly concerned about the unjust proposal to discriminate against people on the basis of how they arrive in the UK. It would punish those who are fleeing persecution but who cannot access safe and legal routes.

As a church, Quakers belong to the Detention Forum and are campaigning against the plans to detain more migrants indefinitely without trial in ‘reception’ and ‘removal’ centres. Quakers in Britain and QARN submitted a joint response to the consultation on the plans, which closed on 6 May. Read their full response (PDF).

Quakers in Britain and Quakers in Scotland have signed joint letters with other charities and faith groups who are united in their opposition to the proposals. Today, they stand alongside a coalition of representatives from many faiths, writing to the Home Secretary, expressing deep opposition to the New Plan for Immigration. Their letter is here:

Open statement to Home Secretary Priti Patel on the government’s New Plan for Immigration

“On 24 March 2021, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced the government’s New Plan for Immigration (NPFI), which was launched alongside a consultation on the proposals. Following the closure of the consultation on 6 May 2021, the government is planning to introduce a bill to enshrine the proposals into UK law.

“As a coalition of Christian faith groups and faith leaders brought together by the St Vincent de Paul Society (England & Wales), we believe these proposals lack humanity and respect for human dignity. We believe it would be wrong to create a system in which the way people enter the UK will impact how their asylum claim is processed and the status they might receive.

“Many people who are forced to flee their homes in desperate circumstances simply have no choice but to cross borders informally to reach a safe haven; to penalise them for this is to abandon the very principle of international protection. Moves to criminalise and penalise undocumented entry to the UK set out in the NPFI mean it will effectively be impossible for most people to claim asylum in the UK because safe and legal routes for claiming asylum in the UK are extremely limited, and could never feasibly be made available to all who need them. We cannot ignore their plight and reduce it to a statistical act of bureaucracy.

“This nation has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world. People who have arrived in our communities through the asylum system are our neighbours, members of our congregations and valued members of our neighbourhoods. We should recognise our common interests of family, community and faith, and embrace the diversity which makes our communities dynamic and vibrant. We call for a rejection of hostility towards people seeking asylum and an end to punitive measures aimed at people who are seeking sanctuary in our country.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to resettlement through the new UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) and look forward to the announcement of resettlement targets for the years to come, but this must not be at the expense of an asylum system that strives to offer protection to those who need it.

“We urge the Home Secretary to embed principles of welcome, protection and integration into the government’s policies. We must treat individuals and families seeking sanctuary on our shores as our brothers and sisters and valued members of our communities. How we respond to those in need has profound implications for who we are as a society. Recognising our obligations to those who seek sanctuary is fundamental to building a just and flourishing nation.”


11 May 2021 Migrant Help: Our response to the New Plan for Immigration

Migrant Help strongly opposes the proposals set out in the New Plan for Immigration. We are very concerned that the proposals are unworkable, will serve to create increased trauma for asylum seekers, establish a chaotic and complex system and hamper the ability of NGOs and civil society to adequately support asylum seekers.  

We believe that the UK’s reputation as a world leader in our approach to human rights will be damaged by the changes set out in this proposal. We feel the proposal creates an adverse environment toward those who are seeking asylum and will foster a culture of intolerance and mistrust. 

The reality of the drivers of asylum forces people into making choices in desperation and there should not be penalties based on routes of arrival. We have concerns about applying ‘illegal’ or ‘legal’ status based on how people enter the country. The mode of entry to the UK should not determine someone’s rights to claim asylum. We note that Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention sets out that states should not impose penalties on illegal entry.

Read more here: https://www.migranthelpuk.org/News/our-response-to-the-new-plan-for-immigration


Updated 10 May 2021: Guardian: EU countries snub Priti Patel’s plans to return asylum seekers

UN criticises the proposals as so damaging they risked Britain’s ‘global credibility’

Not a single European country has decided to support the UK government’s controversial asylum plans, with the UN on Saturday night criticising the proposals as so damaging they risked Britain’s “global credibility”.

Six weeks after the home secretary, Priti Patel, unveiled a sweeping immigration overhaul that included deporting migrants who enter the UK illegally to safe countries such as “France and other EU countries”, sources have said the Home Office has been unable to persuade any European state to sign up to the scheme.

The UN’s refugee agency will soon publish its detailed legal opinion into Patel’s asylum proposals that is likely to conclude her plans infringe international legislation and are unworkable. Despite this, Patel’s asylum proposals are to feature in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, which lays out the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.


Independent: Patel’s asylum plans ‘pose serious threat’ to rule of law and ‘undermine access to justice’, warns Law Society

In damning indictment of Home Office’s proposed immigration overhaul, solicitors body warns reforms would ‘make a mockery of British fair play’ and risk ‘overturning’ principle that everyone is equal

In an 81-page consultation response to the plans, Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce warned that penalising asylum seekers who reach UK shores by “so-called irregular routes”, such as by boat, risked breaching international law by creating a “two-tier asylum system”. “The proposals seek to push asylum-seekers who reach the UK by irregular routes into destitution or homelessness as a way of coercing them to leave the country. Extremely vulnerable people seeking asylum are exercising their legal right to escape human rights abuses – to penalise them in this way could constitute a further abuse. Punishing victims of crime is not acceptable in a civilised, democratic country which upholds the rule of law.

Read more: Independent, https://is.gd/Ni2K8y



8 April 2021: Update: See also: https://www.quaker.org.uk/blog/how-quakers-can-respond-to-the-government-s-new-immigration-plan


We posted various questions, thoughts, information, ideas here in the run up to 6 May 2021 when the New Immigration Plan consultation ends, see here: Government Consultation process announced – responses to be filed by 6 May 2021 11.45pm: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-plan-for-immigration

3 April 2021: David Forbes looks at The Immigration Plan and the “Sovereign Borders” Bill:

We have all, individually and severally, been invited to respond to a Consultation about Priti Patel’s immigration plan over the next few weeks. But we are not invited to challenge the title  “Sovereign Borders” attached to the Bill which will emerge after the Consultation. Nor are we invited to question whether “sovereign borders” is an appropriate concept to apply to complex issues of migration and asylum which are defined in customary international law.

Sovereign Borders, as some will remember, is the title of the Australian initiative to turn back boat people from its territorial waters starting in 2014. It is perhaps no accident that Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister of that day, has been invited to be a special adviser on post-BREXIT trade arrangements. It is also no coincidence that a similarly-structured (but much less inclusive) Consultation was held last year on the 2025 UK Border Strategy. This was in relation principally to trade and customs arrangements, but not excluding migration. There, in his foreword as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove prefaced his strategy with the words, “now that Britain has regained full sovereignty over its borders”.

At least the much broader inclusiveness of this year’s Immigration Consultation is welcome. This openness reflects the government’s Section 23 agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure, in the light of the Windrush debacle and the recommentations of the Wendy Williams Report, that all relevant Stakeholders are properly engaged in the development of new immigration policy. We all need to take advantage of this largesse.

But we should challenge the Sovereign Borders label as misleading because it implies that somehow Britain has acquired powers it lacked before Brexit and has shed supposedly burdensome human rights responsibilities. This is surely questionable and misleading. After all, Britain did have sovereign borders between 1973 and 2020; Brexit did not create or establish the borders freshly in 2020.  Under the EU we had taken advantage of a right to opt out of the Schengen free movement area and opt in to its Information System.  Meanwhile, progress towards the objective of “ever closer union”, to which Brexiteers objected, will not deprive EU member states of sovereignty over their borders, even while they share sovereignty increasingly in other areas of policy. Viewed in the coldlight of day the final Withdrawal Agreement is far from facilitating the UK’s pursuit of increased sovereignty over its borders. A panoply of committees exists to resolve disputes and promote compromises and adaptations in a strictly multilateral framework. The UK will not be able to duck this process or, indeed, its ongoing involvement with the Council of Europe’s Commission and Court of Human Rights under the European Convention in Strasbourg.

In short, sovereignty will turn out to be, as it always has been since The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, a multilateral, not a unilateral, concept. Within this framework of multilateralism and collective human rights responsibilities, it is clear that solutions to arrivals via the Channel remain largely dependent at present on continuing bilateral agreements with France, the progenitor of the Human Rights concept. And, as Peter Rickets, former UK Ambassador to France and National Security adviser has pointed out, the sub-text of Anglo-French cooperation on Defence and Security is France’s strong influence on the EU’s Political and Security Committee. It will be in Britain’s interest not to upset France or the European Union as a quid pro quo for France’s acquiescence in “protecting” England’s southern shores from the Channel arrivals.

This limitation to autonomous action is also the lesson learned from Australia’s ”Sovereign Borders” initiative. Following its instigation, hot pursuit of people smugglers into Indonesia’s waters caused huge resentment in that country and a need for Australia to make a strategic climb-down. Meanwhile Papua New Guinea’s High court declared unlawful the treatment of rejected asyum seekers pushed back on to its territory. Australia did “solve” its problem of “boat people”, but only at the cost of good relations with its neighbours and deep distress for  thousands of former boat people who are still in limbo seven years on. Australia’s international image as a signatory of the Refugee Convention and other international human rights instruments has been tarnished in the process.

Against the background of all this “realpolitik” the fact is that since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the individual – providing he or she is not a criminal – has shared sovereignty with the State. His or her rights  have been enshrined within the Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and many other examples of customary international law. The government, which is still digesting the Lessons of Windrush Learned, needs to acknowledge this explicitly in its Immigration Plan. It should favour maximising security for all, including the unfortunate boat people, over a false concept of sovereignty. Respecting Human Rights will do more for Britain’s image in the world than a quixotic pursuit of sovereign borders.

David Forbes

3 April 2021

See also: https://qarn.org.uk/new-plan-for-immigration/

https://qarn.org.uk/the-immigration-plan-and-the-sovereign-borders-bill/

https://qarn.org.uk/how-quakers-can-respond-to-the-governments-new-immigration-plan/

https://qarn.org.uk/concerns-about-new-plan-for-immigration-consultation-process/