Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Thank you to everyone who has been in touch with me about the Illegal Migration Bill.
A huge number of constituents have contacted me in recent weeks to express sympathy for those forced to flee conflict, and frustration and anger at the government’s incompetence and their callous disregard for the welfare of refugees. I want to be clear that I oppose this heartless and unworkable Bill in the strongest possible terms.
Labour opposed the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill last year because we took the view that it was not just heartless and cruel but would also make the problems the Tories have created in the system worse. Sadly, less than a year later the chaos has increased as we predicted, yet rather than admitting they should have listened to us, the Tories are instead pushing ahead with a new law that doubles down with yet more cruelty and incompetence.
Frankly, this is a government that has given up on trying to deal with the issue of Channel crossings in any kind of sensible or effective way, with the Home Secretary unable to answer even basic questions about how this Bill will work in practice. If nobody arriving in a small boat will be eligible for asylum, regardless of their circumstances, where are such people going to be deported to, given the government has failed to negotiate returns agreements with any key countries? And given such deportations can’t take place – ten of thousands of them – where will these people be housed and how will they be cared for as the inevitable backlogs grow ever longer?
So instead of fixing the problem, we are simply going to get more of the same – the dismally slow processing of cases, the closure of safe and legal routes, and a rise in the horrific crime of human trafficking. What’s more, the chaos we have seen in recent months has seen millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted on the inhumane and unworkable Rwanda policy, or on housing asylum seekers for months in hotels while they await decisions that can takes years to process.
Labour would do things differently. We’d set up safe and legal routes, establish a dedicated unit in the National Crime Agency to crack down on criminal smuggling gangs, cancel the Rwanda plan, allow asylum seekers to work after six months, and invest in more immigration caseworkers to clear the backlog and get the system moving again. That’s the kind of humane and practical plan we need to grip this problem, not more harsh and hollow rhetoric from the Tories.
At a time when the British people are demonstrating such great compassion towards people fleeing conflict in Ukraine, it’s shameful that the government is passing laws that do the opposite for others. Please rest assured that I will always stand up for a Britain that provides sanctuary for those fleeing war and persecution around the world.