Local campaigners press Hastings MP on Nationality Bill amendments

This Friday 11 March the campaign group Hastings Community of Sanctuary (HCoS) will hand to Hastings & Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart a petition signed by over a thousand of her constituents. It asks her to oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill, which if passed in its original form will change the fundamental rights of refugees seeking asylum in the UK, and to support a humane and fair asylum policy instead. The Bill is scheduled to return to Parliament next week for final reading. 

The petition will be accompanied by a copy of an open letter signed by a wide spectrum of Christian and other faith leaders that was presented to the Prime Minister last week.

In a separate move, Hastings Borough Council (HBC) leader Kim Forward has also copied Mrs Hart in on a letter written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel last week lamenting the provisions of the Bill which “will have the effect of removing people seeking asylum from the wider community”. In this letter Cllr Forward emphasised the town’s recent record of support for refugees under the Home Office’ official Syrian and Afghan resettlement schemes but argued that the Bill’s introduction of a two-tiered system “fails to meaningfully recognise that there are no
safe and legal routes for the majority of people seeking asylum.”

Mrs Hart has voted faithfully with her party in support of earlier readings of the Bill sponsored by Ms Patel, notwithstanding vocal criticisms from many of her constituency institutions. So why might she be persuaded to change her mind now?

Lords amendments 

First, the House of Lords voted last week a series of amendments to the original Bill, with many Conservative peers showing accord with others across normal party divides in opposing the changes in treatment of asylum claimants that Ms Patel seeks.

In particular, on 28 February, the Lords voted to remove Clause 11, under which anyone ‘knowingly’ entering the country without permission could be treated less favourably and potentially criminalised, regardless of their need for protection. This would be a fundamental breach, it was argued, of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol on Refugee Status which the UK has signed up to for over half a century.

On 2 March, the Lords went on to support a Conservative-led amendment which would commit the government to resettling 10,000 refugees a year; they also voted to scrap plans to ‘offshore’ asylum seekers in other countries, with one Tory peer, Baroness Stroud, saying that offshore detention would be “ill-defined but far-reaching, expensive yet ineffective, exposing people to further trauma rather than offering protection.” 

Many further amendments were passed, including the removal of Clause 9 which allows the deprivation of British citizenship without notice.

“Ill-thought-through”

Lead campaigner for HCoS, Dr Felicity Laurence commented: “We have been campaigning relentlessly on the Bill, and welcome these amendments, and the fact that there is cross-party support for so many of them; the Lords overall have been intensely critical of the bill, recognising that its legal structure is ill-thought-through and, as we in HCoS also maintain, far too harsh and inhumane.

“We hope that our MP Sally-Ann Hart will reflect upon the opinions of her fellows in the Lords, and reconsider her stand towards the Bill – which hitherto she has supported in its entirety. We have collected well over 1,000 signatures for our petition to urge her to oppose the Bill: we are now asking in particular that she supports these four specific amendments made by the Lords.” 

Mrs Hart may be tempted to dismiss the views of political opponents at local level; she may also regard both the opinions and the votes of their Lordships as having no democratic legitimacy, out of touch with the populist sentiment that migration needs to be curtailed. However, as an avowed Christian, she may feel at least awkward personal pressure from the contents of the inter-faith letter presented to the Prime Minister, which pulls no punches.

“As leaders within faith communities across the UK”, it starts, “we are horrified and appalled about the potential repercussions of the Nationality and Borders Bill. We urge you to reconsider the proposals even at this late stage.

“We are united in our commitment to play an active role in civic life, offering practical support to many in need. However, it is also the duty of faith and community leaders to pay attention to issues of public policy that will directly impact the communities in which we serve and speak out about issues which affect the moral and ethical wellbeing of our society. We assert that the values that bind UK citizens together, especially
those concerning human dignity and life, will be fundamentally damaged by this Bill.”

As seen on TV

If none of this rhetoric moves Mrs Hart, there is a different level of circumstance that may prompt her and other supporters of the Bill to reconsider next week: the graphic images of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine which, day after day, are flooding the nation’s TV screens and social media. 

Mrs Hart wrote at length last week in her column for the Rye News concerning the “horrific” invasion, the UK’s response in terms of humanitarian aid  for the population of Ukraine and the need for rapid refugee initiatives. She referred to a Ukrainian Family Scheme that should allow British Nationals and people settled in the UK to bring family members into the country including adult parents, grandparents, children over 18, and siblings. She also lauded a further Home Office programme (the “Ukrainian Sponsorship Humanitarian Visa Offer”) which “will provide a route to the UK” for Ukrainians who do not have family ties here: under this programme they can be matched with individuals, businesses, community organisations and local authorities who are willing and able to act as a sponsor.

Dr Laurence is unconvinced. She points out that the Government is, even prior to any change in the asylum regime, insisting on complex paperwork for refugees from Ukraine. “For those with no papers, as with so many others fleeing wars and persecution, the only way to reach safety here will be a Channel crossing in a fragile rubber dinghy. We know that already people are making their way to Calais for this purpose.”


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