The government’s illegal migration bill has passed its second reading by 312 votes to 250, after Yvette Cooper condemned the legislation as a “traffickers’ charter” and accused Rishi Sunak of wanting to “enable” modern slavery.
The bill – announced last week – would see anyone arriving in the UK on a small boat have their asylum claim deemed “inadmissible”, with arrivals detained and then “promptly removed”, either to their home country or a safe third country.
The legislation passed its second reading this evening by a majority of 62. A Labour amendment seeking to block the bill was defeated by 249 votes to 312.
Addressing the Commons during the debate, Suella Braverman said “stopping the boats” is her “top priority” and claimed that the British people “back this government’s bill”.
The Home Secretary argued that the current system is “unfair” on the “most vulnerable”, those who “play by the rules” and the British people, adding: “So we must change the law, and we must stop the boats.”
She said: “By ensuring, Mr deputy Speaker, that people do not remain here, we are removing their incentive to make the journey in the first place. But crucially, if people are truly in need of protection, they will receive protection in Rwanda.”
The government unveiled plans in April last year for asylum seekers arriving in the UK to be flown to Rwanda for processing. The inaugural flight was cancelled in June following an 11th-hour intervention by the European court of human rights. But the High Court ruled in December that the policy is lawful following a legal challenge.
Cooper said today Labour would not vote for a “traffickers’ charter” that “lets criminal gangs off the hook”, “fails to tackle dangerous boat crossings”, “locks up children” and “leaves some of the most vulnerable people undermined”.
The Shadow Home Secretary accused the Prime Minister of wanting to “enable” modern day slavery, arguing that the bill “rips up many of the provisions” of the Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced by the Tories in 2015.
Cooper said: “The Tory Party once voted to introduce safeguards on the detention of children, and they were right to do so. The Tory Party once voted to introduce the modern slavery bill, and they were right to do so.
“But what has happened to them now. How low have they fallen, and how far down are they trying to drag our proud county? Because that is what this is. It is an attempt to drag our whole country down.
“They know this bill won’t work to stop boat crossing or to stop the gangs. They know it won’t clear the backlog. They know it will make the chaos worse.”
She added: “But they don’t care, because this is about political gains. This is is about a lame Prime Minister making promises that he has no intention of keeping. All he wants is a dividing line.
“All he wants is to pick a fight. All he wants is someone else to blame, and he doesn’t care if our international reputation or some very vulnerable people pay the price.”
Cooper said: “We need urgent action to stop the dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk and undermining our border security. But this bill is a con that makes the chaos worse. It won’t do the things the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have promised.”
Braverman denied that the bill would see children detained, telling MPs: “The Home Secretary’s duty to remove will not be applied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
“Consistent with current policy, only in limited circumstances, such as for the purposes of family reunion, we will remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from the UK.”
The Prime Minister announced in January that passing new laws to stop small boats crossing the Channel would be one of five priorities for his government.
Sunak tweeted last week that, under the government’s bill, “if you come to the UK illegally: you can’t claim asylum; you can’t benefit from our modern slavery protections; you can’t make spurious human rights claims; [and] you can’t stay”.
He said: “People must know that coming here illegally will result in their detention and swift removal – once they do, they will not come, and the boats will stop.”
Chief executive of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon said the government’s bill “ignores the fundamental point that most of the people in small boats are men, women and children escaping terror and bloodshed from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Syria”.
He added: “The plans won’t stop the crossings but will simply leave traumatised people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil.”
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