It was in the aftermath of World War II, when all the horrors of bloodshed arose, that countries came together to ensure that there would be international protection for those who suffered persecution.
This led to the creation of the Refugee Convention in 1951. Although it was signed under the post-war Labor government, led by Clement Attlee, the document has become one of the cornerstones on which all post-war British governments leaned on.
When I wrote a biography of Attlee, I never thought that a government would stand outside of this beautiful British tradition. It is the Conservatives’ shame that the United Nations Refugee Agency has said that the government’s plans violate the commitments made in this convention 70 years ago.
After dismissing as a “policy of gestures” the decision of the England men’s football team to kneel down, siding with those who hooted them and breaking its commitment to support the poorest and most vulnerable world during a global pandemic, it was hard to see how the government could go lower. Yet he managed it with his Nationality and Borders Bill, which is the latest installment of the conservative culture war.
No one disputes that people must be prevented from risking their lives in the Channel. When Priti Patel was a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2019, her report warned of exactly this outcome: “A policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will push migrants to take more dangerous routes and push them between the hands of criminal groups. . “
This lesson was not heard. It is a bill that is both wrong and ill-advised. The Minister of the Interior maintains that the asylum system is broken. I agree. The Conservatives have broken it over the past 11 years. During this period, the share of asylum applications that were the subject of a first decision within six months increased from 87% in 2014 to 20% in 2019.
The reality is that this bill will do nothing to address this problem. Instead, it means the government will turn its back on some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. This legislation is so aggressive it could criminalize the RNLI for saving people at sea – and if this bill had been in place when Sir Nicholas Winton was saving hundreds of children from the Holocaust on the Kindertransport, it would have risked being criminalized for his life. – saving actions.
The bill also undermines important protections for victims of human trafficking. This is a vile crime that we must do everything to tackle – but it makes it harder for victims to access support, from the music to the ears of modern slavery gangs. Tougher sentences for criminals are needed, but there must be support for victims.
This bill does not contain anything that can help fight against the activity of gangs that are unleashed in France, making money on desperate people. What is needed is a well-resourced effort to bring gangs to justice. The cruel irony of this government’s approach is that it is weak at taking action against criminal gangs – and brutal when it comes to orphaned children in war zones.
Plans even fail on their own terms. The government has no way of replacing the Dublin III agreements, which allowed asylum seekers to be returned to safe countries. Without it, the whole asylum process will be blocked, which is in no one’s interest.
As always with this Home Secretary, the bill is an attempt to speak harshly, but will not help. Labor will not back down and allow this government to pass such confrontational and misguided legislation that would undermine Britain’s authority around the world.
Nick Thomas-Symonds is the shadow Home Secretary and Welsh Labor MP for Torfaen