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Asylum Seekers (Removal to Safe Countries)

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2022

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that certain provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 relating to the removal of asylum seekers to safe countries shall have effect notwithstanding inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law; to require the Secretary of State to proceed with such removals regardless of any decision or judgment of any international court or body; and for connected purposes.

I want to start by saying that my thoughts and prayers are with those who have so tragically lost their lives while crossing the English channel, as well as with their families and our brave emergency service workers who have responded. Today’s awful news makes it clear how we in this place must do all we can to end the vile people smuggling and human trafficking gangs that trade in human misery.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s announcement in the House yesterday that we will begin to fast-track the removal of Albanians, speed up the processing of asylum claims, move away from hotels being used in places such as Stoke-on-Trent and bring in new legislation in the new year to mean that if someone comes here illegally, they cannot stay here, which will help to break apart the operating model of these cruel and heartless gangs.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and I find the number of migrants crossing the English channel from perfectly safe, neighbouring European countries such as France totally unacceptable and deeply concerning. It is a fact that about 70% of those making the crossings are young single men coming over on their own. Over 12,000 of these are economic migrants from Albania, of whom 10,000 are single adult males. We need to bring this national and European emergency to an end, as well as to fulfil our promise to the British people by taking back control of our laws and borders.

When we as a country voted to leave the European Union in 2016—the largest mandate in British political history—we did so to restore our ability to control our laws, money and borders. The people of this great country felt that too much power wrongly lay in Europe and that their voices were ignored. Leaving the European Union and restoring parliamentary sovereignty represented transferring power back to the people who elect their Members of Parliament to represent their views.

I strongly welcomed the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which was brought to this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), as a landmark piece of legislation that was supposed to seize on our new-found freedoms post Brexit and implement the robust and decisive immigration system that the people of this country have been so urgently calling for. Along with my Conservative colleagues, I thought it was a welcome new approach to the issues of sovereignty and border control. I supported the Act because I saw it as a real opportunity to deter people crossing the English channel, and therefore to break the harrowing practices of the abhorrent people smugglers who operate not just in Europe, but around the world.

The cornerstone of the Act are measures to offshore to Rwanda illegal economic migrants coming from safe mainland Europe, copying the successful model used by Australia. Some 73% of my fine constituents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke support that, based on a survey I have conducted on this issue. Unfortunately, the extent to which we can make our own sovereign decisions has been brought into question, as immigration lawyers have been able to block deportations to Rwanda through appeals to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

As recently as July, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote in The Sunday Telegraph that where the European convention on human rights is a problem

“I will tackle it. We voted to leave so that we could act as a sovereign nation. The ECHR cannot inhibit our ability to properly control our borders and we shouldn’t let it.”

According to the National Audit Office report on immigration enforcements, only 48% of enforced returns went ahead as planned, due to legal challenges emanating from the European Court of Human Rights preventing the other 52% from going ahead. I agree with the Prime Minister that the European Court of Human Rights should not use its political interpretation of our laws to undermine the will of the British people. The respondents to my local survey also agree, with 68% saying that we should ignore the European Court of Human Rights, as we did with the proposal to give prisoners the right to vote.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) introduced a motion back in 2010 on the right of prisoners to vote in general elections. The European Court of Human Rights at the time ruled that banning prisoners from voting was a breach of their human rights, contrary to decisions made in this House, but my right hon. Friend and this House forced the then Government to block it. The purpose of my Bill is to move a similar motion in relation to offshoring illegal economic migrants, giving us total control over our laws and borders and fulfilling the promises we made to the people of this nation in 2019.

Personally, I think we should seriously consider our position as a member of the ECHR. The Centre for Policy Studies report reflects that view, stating:

“As long as Britain remains a signatory to the Convention and bound by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, governments will be prevented from adequately enforcing immigration laws.”

Although we have left the European Union and restored powers back to this House, the democratically elected institution that the British people have put their faith in, it should not be blocked any further from being able to defend our borders and enforce our laws, such as those on processing illegal economic migrants in Rwanda.

While we may have freed ourselves from EU control, we still have a quasi-legislative supranational institution that fundamentally undermines decisions made in our democratically elected and sovereign Parliament. That is why I am introducing my Bill today. It would mean that we could get the migrants who have entered the UK illegally on to flights to Rwanda and, in the future, to other safe countries to have their claims processed there, by changing the law to explicitly prevent the European Court of Human Rights from meddling in our sovereignty on this specific matter. The Bill is about demonstrating that Parliament is on the side of the British public and restoring our great nation’s territorial integrity. I am steadfast in my belief that we can end the ECHR’s trespass on our parliamentary democracy and guarantee this House’s position as the ultimate lawmaking institution of our great country.

At this time—in this moment when four people have died and 40 have been rescued in the channel—the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) has chosen to introduce this offensive, grubby, dangerous wee Bill. He should be ashamed of himself, and if he had any sense or compassion he would have withdrawn it today.

I will take no lessons from him on immigration. Glasgow Central has the highest immigration caseload in Scotland, and I am proud that that is so. In Glasgow Central, I am proud to say, nearly 25% of its people were born outside the UK, and we benefit hugely from that. Stoke-on-Trent North has only 7%, as a matter of fact.

The Tories would have us ignore the European convention on human rights and the 1951 refugee convention. They would have us ignore the very humanity and compassion that human beings feel when recognising the plight of others—[Interruption.] I am being heckled with ridiculous comments from the Government Benches. The Tories have form in breaking international law in limited and specific ways, and they want to do so again with this Bill.

I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman has never met anyone who has fled war and conflict. He does not understand the desperation that drives those journeys. His Bill dehumanises others, fellow human beings, and the only way he can do that is by not having the compassion to listen or the imagination to feel what it must be like to stand in their shoes. I see that week in, week out at my surgeries.

This is not what Scotland wants to see. From the Glasgow girls, including my friend Councillor Roza Salih, to the Glasgow grannies, Jean Donnachie and Noreen Real, who stood up against dawn raids in Glasgow in the mid-2000s, to my constituents in Kenmure Street standing up for their neighbours and preventing their removal, we on these Benches understand the plight of our fellow human beings, and we know that we should treat them with the dignity that we would expect if we happened to be in their place.

The hon. Member talks about the Australia model. That model failed. Manus Island cost more than £1 billion a year to run, and it closed in 2017. The model failed and was hugely expensive. Talking tough and acting tough is no deterrent. They all said that the hostile environment would do it: it demonstrably failed. Then they said the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 would deter people, but the small boat crossings are still happening, as we have seen so tragically today. Apparently we need more, harder, tougher legislation. That will also fail: I can tell them that now. It will fail because the people making the journeys are desperate. They are desperate to get here for safety and for family ties, because what has happened to them has been so horrific that they will run and run, and keep running until they get to a place of sanctuary and safety.

The hon. Member talked about men. [Interruption.] The men on the Government Benches shouting should listen to this. Men are also vulnerable; men who are forcibly recruited and asked to fight, and men who are forced to rape their family and their neighbours, are vulnerable. They know that they do not want to do that. They are men who we have an obligation and a duty to in this country—men made vulnerable because they supported US and UK activity in Afghanistan. As the Afghan interpreters have told me, “We are here because you were there.”

In his statements on this matter, the Prime Minister refused to confirm his commitment to the European convention on human rights or the refugee convention. The Home Secretary is chuckling away, and she ducked this issue today as well. These are the international rules and norms that protect our right to ensure human rights and the safety of people. They have been hard-won. Their existence should be a source of pride to us all, not an inconvenience to be gotten around by the Tories to suit the headlines in the Daily Mail.

The SNP stands firmly against this diminution of rights and diminishing of humanity and this treating of the most vulnerable human beings as if they were some kind of mere cargo to be shipped off. An independent Scotland will take our place in the world, live up to our international responsibilities and ensure that those who do us the honour of coming to Scotland are welcome, supported, made safe and allowed to rebuild their lives. No one is illegal; this Bill just might be. Please object to it.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

The general debate on Ukraine is not moved. Therefore, in anticipation of the imminent arrival—[Interruption.] It is really rude to keep on talking when things are being said from the Chair. In anticipation of the imminent arrival here in the Palace of Westminster of His Majesty the King, the House is now suspended until 4 pm or as soon as possible thereafter. The Division bells will ring a few minutes before the resumption of the sitting.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Division on the draft Architects Act 1997 (Amendment) Regulations 2022. The Ayes were 303 and the Noes were 42, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]