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Illegal Migration Bill to become law within days after Government wins all votes in House of Lords


Lords' battle against Bill draws to a close as it fails to vote through any further amendments

Date of Publication:
18 July 2023

A late-night sitting in the House of Lords yesterday saw the Government emerge victorious in the battle to pass the Immigration Migration Bill.

Houses of ParliamentImage credit: UK GovernmentThe Bill will receive Royal Assent and become law on Thursday of this week, known as the Illegal Migration Act 2023.

Peers failed to inflict a single defeat on the Government as the Bill returned to the Lords after being sent back by MPs.

Baroness Jenny Jones said on Twitter: "A disastrous night for the UK and its international reputation. All five votes lost, including on protections for children and on modern slavery. Shameful."

Earlier yesterday evening, the House of Commons refused to reconsider the Illegal Migration Bill and again rejected all of the amendments made to the Bill last week by the House of Lords.

Nine votes were held in the Commons and all were successfully won by the Government.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told the Commons: "This elected House voted to give the Bill a Second and Third Reading. Last Tuesday, it voted no fewer than 17 times in succession to reject the Lords amendments and an 18th time to endorse the Government's amendments in lieu relating to the detention of unaccompanied children. It is time for the clear view of the elected House to prevail."

In rejecting the amendments made to the Bill by the Lords, Jenrick said: "The message and the means must be absolutely clear and unambiguous: if people come to the UK illegally, they will not be able to stay here. Instead, they will be detained and returned to their home country or removed to a safe third country. There is simply no point in passing legislation that does not deliver a credible deterrent or provide the means to back it up with effective and swift enforcement powers. We cannot accept amendments that provide for exceptions, qualifications and loopholes that would simply perpetuate the current cycle of delays and endless late and repeated legal challenges to removal. I listened carefully to the debate in the other place, but no new arguments were forthcoming and certainly no credible alternatives were provided."

Speaking in support of the Lords amendments, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told MPs that if the House of Commons is about to break international law, it is entirely fitting for the House of Lords to try to prevent that from happening.

Labour's shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, said the Bill was unworkable and Government ministers were once again refusing to listen in "typically arrogant and tin-eared fashion". Kinnock added: "They are once again closing their eyes and ears to the reality of what is happening around them and choosing to carry on driving the car straight into a brick wall."

The Bill returned to the House of Commons late yesterday night, with the debate not starting until nearly 10.30pm. Lord Paddick, Lib Dem spokesperson on Home Affairs, said on Twitter that a late-night sitting was not the way to be dealing with such controversial legislation.

As the debate began, Baroness Chakrabarti called on the Lords to exceptionally stand firm over the Bill in order to protect the constitutional role of the courts and to protect the rule of law. Chakrabarti said the Bill represented "one of the gravest executive power grabs and abrogations of the rule of law in living memory."

Baroness Chakrabarti's amendment that would have seen the interpretation of the Bill have regard to relevant international human rights treaties was, however, defeated in the first division of the night. The Government won by 217 votes to 200.

The early loss for Chakrabarti's amendment set the pattern for the night. A total of five divisions were held and all were won by the Government. Some amendments were not put to a vote, as peers opposed to the Bill saw that the Government now had the numbers to see off further challenges.

Baroness Ludford noted on Twitter that the Government had deployed over 200 of their peers to win the votes, in what she said was "no doubt a ferocious whipping operation". The closest division was won by just 7 votes.

The Lib Dem team in the House of Lords added as the debate drew to a close: "We did everything we could to stop this bill, and fought to the bitter end to defend the rights for vulnerable and desperate people who arrive in this country to seek safe refuge."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said this morning in a joint statement that the passing of the Bill will have profound consequences for people in need of international protection and will expose refugees to grave risks in breach of international law. 

"The Bill extinguishes access to asylum in the UK for anyone who arrives irregularly, having passed through a country – however briefly – where they did not face persecution. It bars them from presenting refugee protection or other human rights claims, no matter how compelling their circumstances. In addition, it requires their removal to another country, with no guarantee that they will necessarily be able to access protection there. It creates sweeping new detention powers, with limited judicial oversight," the statement noted.

Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, commented: "The UK has long had a commitment to upholding international human rights and refugee law. … I urge the UK Government to renew this commitment to human rights by reversing this law and ensuring that the rights of all migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are respected, protected and fulfilled, without discrimination. This should include efforts to guarantee expeditious and fair processing of asylum and human rights claims, improve reception conditions, and increase the availability and accessibility of safe pathways for regular migration."