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Nationality and Borders Bill enters Parliament and attempts to make it a criminal offence to illegally enter the UK to seek asylum


New bill seeks to deter asylum seekers crossing the English Channel by small boat

Date of Publication:
06 July 2021

Nationality and Borders Bill enters Parliament and attempts to make it a criminal offence to illegally enter the UK to seek asylum

06 July 2021

It is a significant day for immigration and asylum law, as the new Nationality and Borders Bill entered Parliament for its first reading. The 87-page bill is now available here.

BoatWriting in the Sunday Express at the weekend, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the bill was "the change we need to fix the UK's broken asylum system".

Despite the seeming undermining of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Sunday Times previewed how the bill would introduce strict new laws to make it a criminal offence for asylum seekers to enter the UK without permission.

As we reported on EIN last week, the Government is reportedly concerned over the psychological and political impact of the numbers of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel by small boat, even if the overall number of people claiming asylum in the UK is decreasing.

The Home Secretary explained in an article for the Daily Mail yesterday:

"We will create a new criminal offence of entering the country illegally, giving Border Force more scope to make arrests, and we will increase prison sentences for those who do so. And, for the first time, whether someone enters the country legally or illegally will impact how their asylum application is dealt with.

"Those who have successful claims having entered illegally will receive a new temporary protection status rather than an automatic right to settle and will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK. They will also have limited family reunion rights and limited access to benefits."

Patel added that the UK would continue to be generous to refugees who arrive through safe and legal routes.

While Free Movement noted that it is already an offence to enter the UK without permission (and has been since at least the Immigration Act 1971 entered force), it speculated that the bill would seek to remove any distinction between 'entering' and 'arriving'. Asylum seekers who immediately claim asylum on their arrival have not entered the UK illegally.

Freedom from Torture called new Nationality and Borders Bill the "Anti-Refugee Bill".

Sonya Sceats, the Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, commented: "This Anti-Refugee Bill tries to take us back to this pre-Refugee Convention era - by shifting the focus away from what someone is fleeing (and why) and back onto how the person arrives. There are, therefore, major questions about its compatibility with the spirit and letter of the Refugee Convention."

Amnesty International UK said the bill was "legislative vandalism" and it would fatally undermine the right to asylum.

In a strongly-worded statement, Steve Valdez-Symonds, the Refugee and Migrants Rights Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said: "This reckless and deeply-unjust bill is set to bring shame on Britain's international reputation. It will open the door to other countries also seeking to dismantle a global refugee system which has saved countless lives.

"This is a shameful dereliction of duty from the Home Secretary. If the bill goes through, the UK will have reneged on key international commitments - including the Refugee Convention, put in place after the horrors of World War Two."

The president of the Law Society, I. Stephanie Boyce, also warned that the bill could undermine Britain's standing as a country that upholds international agreements.

"The rule of law and access to justice should underpin any reform of the asylum system. The measures, as briefed, risk seriously infringing both these pillars of our democracy. The country's reputation for justice and fairness would be seriously damaged if they became law," Boyce was quoted as saying by the Law Society Gazette.

Following the publication of the bill this afternoon, Garden Court's Colin Yeo had some impressively swift initial impressions here on Free Movement.

Yeo's early thoughts are summarised as follows:

"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."

Yeo concludes that the bill grafts "extra complexity and nastiness onto existing asylum structures" and it "punishes genuine refugees for having the temerity to come to seek sanctuary in our country rather than remain someone else's responsibility."