Lords refuse to stop Illegal Migration Bill despite Archbishop leading peers in opposition

·6-min read
Lords refuse to stop Illegal Migration Bill despite Archbishop leading peers in opposition

An attempt to stop Suella Braverman’s Illegal Migration Bill in its tracks has been heavily defeated in the House of Lords.

Peers rejected by 179 votes to 76, a majority of 103, a so-called fatal motion to the Bill which aims to stop small boat Channel crossings.

Liberal Democrat Lord Paddick, who proposed the fatal motion, said: “This Bill is all pain and no gain. This is a question of principle.”

The government won the vote despite a rare political intervention from the Archbishop of Canterbury who heavily criticised the plans, saying they risked “great damage” to the UK’s reputation.

In a withering attack on the Bill, Justin Welby said international protections for refugees are “not inconvenient obstructions to get round by any legislative means necessary”

He was among a large number of peers in opposition to Suella Braverman’s controversial Bill as it made a bruising passage through the house.

He argued against legislation aimed at ensuring people who arrive in “small boats” crossing the Channel are detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda, and banned from returning to Britain.

He has previously criticised the plan to send migrants to Rwanda as “ungodly”.

The archbishop, who crowned the King in Westminster Abbey on Saturday, said he did not think the Bill would stop the small boats crossing the English Channel as he branded it "morally unacceptable and politically impractical".

He told peers: “We need a Bill to reform migration. We need a Bill to stop the boats. We need a Bill to destroy the evil tribe of traffickers. The tragedy is that without much change this is not that Bill.

“This Bill fails to take a long-term and strategic view of the challenges of migration and undermines international co-operation rather than taking an opportunity for the UK to show leadership.”

Highlighting the existing global agreements on refugees, Mr Welby said: “While now inadequate, what those conventions offer is a baseline from which to build a globally shared understanding of what protection must be given to refugees.

“They are not inconvenient obstructions to get round by any legislative means necessary.”

The Bill has faced criticism (PA)
The Bill has faced criticism (PA)

He added: “Even if this Bill succeeded in temporarily stopping the boats, and I don’t think it will, it won’t stop conflict or climate migration.”

The immigration reforms, which have already been passed by the Commons, are still set for a rocky ride through parliament despite passing this first hurdle.

Among other critics in a debate stretching into the evening was Baroness Helic, who fled to the UK from war-torn Bosnia at the age of 23, who argued the Bill represented “an outright ban on asylum” and questioned its morality.

She said: “Undermining jurisdiction of international courts and ignoring our international legal commitments does not serve our interests.

“The only way to tackle global transnational challenges like immigration is through international law, cooperation and shared responsibility.

“Leading a race to the bottom where we all try to offload our obligations onto the others will not help, bearing in mind 74% of all refugees worldwide are hosted by low and middle income countries with far fewer resources than our nation.”

Labour peer Lord Howarth of Newport branded the legislation “merciless” and “particularly cruel for children”.

The former Tory MP, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, added that the Iron Lady would have understood that “this policy won’t work”.

He said: “I would remind the proponents of this legislation that Mrs Thatcher used to say that, in politics, you have a choice: you can appeal to the better part of human nature or the worst.

“She was no softie, but she didn’t practice cruelty out of a cynical notion of electoral expediency.

“She would have understood that the policy won’t work at any level. The asylum seekers won’t be deterred from getting into the boats because they won’t know what our law is and the people traffickers will continue to take their money and push them out to sea.”

Robert Jenrick defended the bill (PA)
Robert Jenrick defended the bill (PA)

But immigration minister Robert Jenrick said he “respectfully” disagreed with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism.

“We believe the British public support us in our efforts to stop the boats”, he told Channel 4 News.

He said that he did not think there was “anything moral in perpetuating the trade for people smugglers and human traffickers”.

“If this was easy, if there were simple solutions, we would have done them already,” he added.

He said that those crossing the Channel from France were “essentially asylum shoppers”.

“We don’t think it’s right that if you’re in a safe country like France, that you should be coming to the UK. That’s creating a fundamental unfairness.”

Also rejecting the Archbishop’s criticism, House Of Cards author Lord Dobbs stressed the need to tackle the people smugglers.

The Tory peer and former adviser to the Thatcher government said: “They trade in lies, they trade lives.

“There’s nothing moral about allowing the pernicious trade of people smugglers to continue. It is our moral obligation to stop them, to bring an end to the unimaginable pain of mothers and fathers watching their children drowning off our shores in the channel.

“No amount of handwringing or bell ringing is going to do that.”

Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth said the archbishop and other opponents were right to talk about the bill in “moral” terms.

He said: “Proceeding with this Bill is the moral course.

“We must put a stop to the dangerous Channel crossings, putting lives at risk and splitting families.

“We must end the callous exploitation of vulnerable people by the people smugglers and we must uphold the law and ensure fair play for those who abide by our immigration rules.”

The unelected chamber sat from 11am to consider the Bill at second reading after it passed the Commons, with almost 90 speakers including the archbishop being listed to speak.

One of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s five pledges was to pass legislation to “stop the boats”.

More than 6,000 migrants have crossed the channel so far in 2023, with the Home Office facing severe criticism for delays in dealing with asylum applications.

To cope with the numbers, the Government plans to use disused military camps and a barge as accommodation centres.

Bibby Stockholm, the barge which is to be used by the Home Office to house up to 500 male asylum seekers, arrives from Genoa (Getty/PA)
Bibby Stockholm, the barge which is to be used by the Home Office to house up to 500 male asylum seekers, arrives from Genoa (Getty/PA)

But critics argue the flagship immigration reforms break international law and threaten modern slavery protections.

Meanwhile, a barge which the Government plans to use to house up to 500 migrants has arrived in Falmouth, Cornwall.

The Bibby Stockholm is expected to be moved into position at the port of Portland in Dorset in the next few weeks, after undergoing checks. It was towed from Italy and will be used to house single adult male asylum seekers.

The plan has, however, faced criticism from Tory-run Dorset council and local Conservative MP Richard Drax who said it was “dumped on our door” without consultation by the Government.