Priti Patel’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill was just voted through Parliament – but what does that really mean?
The home secretary has long promised as tougher approach to immigration in the UK, particularly when it comes to people trying to enter the country through the English Channel as crossings have reached an all-time high.
Patel rejected widespread criticism and insisted the government wasn’t “heartless” after 27 people died while trying to reach England via dinghy in November.
The home secretary has continued to press ahead with her new bill, even as it has infuriated some people, proposing to shake up the entire asylum system in the UK. One of her clauses even suggests Downing Street could strip certain people of their UK citizenship without warning.
Here’s everything you need to know about Patel’s bill.
What is the Nationality and Borders Bill?
The bill aims to:
Prevent illegal entry to the UK, meaning people can’t come into the country without a visa, in an attempt to scupper criminal trafficking networks.
Remove people from the UK if they have no right to be there.
Protect those who are in genuine need by creating a new asylum system.
The bill means the UK will be able to send asylum seekers to a “safe third country” and can allow for offshore processing centres overseas. Last month, justice secretary Dominic Raab did not deny that ministers were looking to put people who arrived in the UK from the Channel onto boats to Albania.
Border Force officers can turn people away from the UK while travelling to British land in a boat, without prosecution, too.
The bill also makes it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK without permission.
The maximum sentence for people entering the UK unlawfully will go up to four years if the proposals are passed – the maximum sentence is currently six months.
All of this will work to reduce the so-called “pull factors” of the UK’s asylum system, according to Patel.
Will the bill be turned into law?
The bill cleared the Commons this week by 298 votes to 231 – meaning it has now gone for a reading in the House of Lords.
It was debated for just nine minutes in the Commons, after deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing accused the opposition MPs of using “delaying tactics”.
However, the bill needs to be read and debated in the House of Lords before it can pass into law.
A total of 88 pages of amendments have been issued along with the bill, which the Lords will consider before sending it back to the Commons.
“This bill represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK”
What is clause 9?
Clause 9 of the bill is causing particular controversy this week as it means six million people with dual nationality, or who were born outside the UK, could be stripped of their British citizenship without fair warning.
At the moment, only those who pose a threat to the UK through either terrorism or war crimes, or if they obtained citizenship fraudulently, can have their citizenship removed.
Clause 9 does not change this – but it does allow citizenship to be removed without notice, if it would “not be reasonably practicable” to tell the individual first in the interests of national security or international relations.
The Home Office has claimed people will only lose their citizenship without notification if someone is in a war zone, or if telling them would reveal sensitive sources.
But clause 9 has drawn some attention this week after Conservative backbencher David Davis dubbed it “uncivilised” and “legally disputable”.
He put forward an amendment so that the home secretary could not deprive someone of their citizenship without notification.
Davis, a Conservative backbencher, said: “Not only are these excessively broad new powers not necessary to tackle terrorism, but they are counter-productive.”
Davis also pointed out that the government’s excuse that it wasn’t practicable to notify people that their citizenship is being taken away, as they only have to post a letter to their last known address.
What are people saying about the bill?
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to remove clause 9 from the Nationality and Borders Bill, explaining: “We believe this is unacceptable, and inconsistent with international human rights obligations.”
Parliament considers all petitions which get more than 100,000 signatures.
This is what people had to say about it online:
The bill has also caused fury among people from both sides of the Commons.
Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted: “It’s an attack on refugee rights, criminalising boats rescuing people at sea and violating our 70-year commitment to the Refugee Convention.
“I voted against it but disgracefully Conservative MPs voted it through.”
Labour MP Harriet Harman, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: “Current failures in the immigration and asylum system cannot be remedied by harsher penalties and more dangerous enforcement action.”
Tory backbencher Davis called clause 9 “unworkable”. He put forward an amendment to the clause which has also been backed by Tory MPs Andrew Mitchell and Caroline Nokes.
Ian Dunt from the i pointed out: “The government has created a second-tier category of British citizenship, which applies predominantly to ethnic minorities.”
“This bill represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK,” human rights group Freedom From Torture said.
Amnesty International claimed the bill will “create significant obstacles and harms to people seeking asylum”, alleging it would undermine the Refugee Convention too.
Immigration lawyers even said the bill breached both international and domestic law in at least 10 ways, accusing the government of “riding roughshod” over its obligations.