Sir David Davis comments on UK Government’s attempt to criminalise illicit refugee crossings


As published by The Guardian:

The UK appears set to criminalise illicit refugee crossings and could ship asylum seekers for processing in other countries after ministers easily saw off a potential rebellion in the Commons over the controversial borders and nationality bill.

Despite a number of Conservative backbenchers expressing concerns about aspects of the bill, the government convincingly won a string of votes to restore elements changed in the House of Lords, including the idea of Australian-style third country processing.

Speaking in the debate, Tom Pursglove, the junior migration minister, confirmed that, as restored, the bill could see Ukrainian refugees who arrived without permission removed for processing. He added there was “absolutely no reason” for Ukrainian nationals to resort to illicit crossings.

He said the powers to prosecute and jail people who arrive by unofficial means, such as on a small boat across the Channel, would only be used in “egregious cases”, such as someone entering the country in breach of a deportation order.

Tory rebels did claim a slight victory after Pursglove agreed to meet them to discuss ideas to allow all asylum seekers to more easily access work, as is already the case for those from Ukraine and Afghanistan.

This was welcomed by Robert Buckland, the former lord chancellor, who was among more than 60 Tory MPs and peers who signed a letter backing a change, saying he hoped to reach “a mutually agreeable solution” with the government over the issue.

There was, however, barely any open revolt against the government. Only two Conservatives, Simon Hoare and Tim Loughton, voted to keep the Lords amendment on rules over work, while three voted against overseas processing – Loughton again, and former ministers Andrew Mitchell and David Davis.

In all, seven Lords amendments were put to the vote, with other areas including family reunions and targeting illicit entry to the UK, and all were overturned by significant majorities, the lowest being 59.

The bill will now be reconsidered by the Lords, possibly at the end of this month.

The government has argued its approach is necessary to stop people making dangerous Channel boat trips with people smugglers. But responding for Labour, the shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the system would be “neither fair, compassionate nor orderly”.

Mitchell and Davis both castigated the plan for overseas processing, with the former saying that if the costs were similar to those seen by Australia, rather than sending asylum seekers abroad “it would be much cheaper to put each one in the Ritz, and send all the under-18s to Eton”.

Davis said the approach amounted to offering poorer countries “a spectacular bribe to take in our dirty washing”. Citing the numerous reports of assaults and self-harm in Australian camps, he said: “That’s what we appear to be trying to copy here.”

The former de facto deputy prime minister, Damian Green, warned that the plan would do little to ease the boat landings as there were no legitimate routes available for the nationalities most involved, such as people from Iran, Iraq and Yemen.

“Those routes need to be available, and for far too many people they are not available under the current system,” Green said.

Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader, gave a passionate speech calling the bill “a traffickers’ charter”.

He said: “You vote for this bill, you are voting for deaths in the Channel. You remove the right for anyone who is not Ukrainian, Afghan or Syrian to have a safe route here. That is an outrage, and members opposite know that is the truth.”