Illegal Migration Bill: how did my MP vote on Suella Braverman’s asylum law?

MPs backed the controversial bill despite strong opposition from Labour and the SNP

The government’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill has passed its third reading and will ascend to the House of Lords for scrutiny.

The contentious bill, introduced by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, plans to prevent people who enter the UK through irregular routes from claiming asylum and see them deported.

The Bill has been condemned by human rights organisations, who’ve said it would likely breach international law and would not have the desired effect of preventing people from crossing the Channel.

Under the Bill, migrants deemed to have arrived in the UK ‘illegally’ or through ‘irregular routes’ would be prevented from claiming asylum. Instead, they would be immediately detained without bail or judicial review, and subsequently removed from the country, for example via deportation to Rwanda.

Crucially, these asylum seekers would also be banned from ever returning to the UK - and blocked from seeking citizenship. Sunak has described this as “fair for those at home” and “for those who have a legitimate claim to asylum”, adding: “My policy is very simple. It is this country, and your government, who should decide who comes here.”

The Bill was introduced by Suella Braverman earlier this month, with the first vote taking place on 13 March. MPs will debate the Bill again over the next few days and are expected to vote on a number of proposed amendments.

Hardline Consevative MPs are thought to have convinced the government to strengthen the bill further to avoid a potential rebellion, after tabling amendments which would block judges from stopping deportations and limit aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights. Other MPs are pushing for amendments which would create safe and legal routes for would-be asylum seekers, though the government has indicated that it will not back this amendment.

Which way did my MP vote on the Illegal Migration Bill?

MPs voted to back the government’s bill yesterday, despite opposition from Labour. Former prime minister Theresa May was one of a few Conservatives who criticised the legislation, but she abstained on the vote, rather than rebelling.

May said she is expecting to hold further talks with Downing Street to resolve issues with the Bill, including in connection with modern slavery. She noted how she took action to respond to people jumping in the back of lorries and cars in a bid to get into the UK, and welcomed the new deal with France.

She said: “But what should be clear from this is whenever you close a route, the migrants and the people smugglers find another way, and anybody who thinks that this Bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong.

“Not least because a significant number, if not the majority, of people who are here illegally don’t come on small boats, they come legally and overstay their visas.”

May said the Government has yet to provide evidence that modern slavery laws are being “abused” by people crossing the Channel and noted statistics suggest “nearly 90% of modern slavery claims are found to be valid”.

The Conservative MP added neither the return agreement with Albania or the Nationality and Borders Act has been in long enough to assess their impact, and expressed concerns about the “blanket dismissal” of anyone facing persecution who finds their way to the UK albeit not through legal ways.

She said: “Examples have been given that a young woman fleeing persecution in Iran, for example, would have the door to the UK shut in her face.

“The UK has always welcomed those who are fleeing persecution regardless of whether they come through a safe and legal route. By definition someone fleeing for their life will more often than not be unable to access a legal route.

“I don’t think it’s enough to say we will meet our requirements by sending people to claim asylum in Rwanda. This matters because of the reputation of the UK on the world stage and that matters because the UK’s ability to play a role internationally is based on our reputation – not because we’re British, but because of what we stand for and what we do.”

Search your MP’s name or constituency below to see how they voted.


UN criticises Bill

Speaking on the Illegal Migration Bill, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said the proposal amounts to an effective “asylum ban” - which would prevent people fleeing war and persecution from seeking refuge. It explained: “The effect of the bill would be to deny protection to many asylum seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case.”

This is because under the plans, a legal duty would be imposed on the Home Secretary to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” anyone who arrives on a small boat - and to do so without hearing their asylum claim. The so-called “duty to remove” would take legal precedence over an individual’s right to claim asylum, although there would be exemptions for under-18s as well as those with serious medical conditions.

The UNHCR argued this would be “a clear breach of the Refugee Convention” and “would undermine a long-standing, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.” The agency went on to urge MPs to vote against the “profoundly” concerning plan, and instead “pursue more humane and practical policy solutions.”

Modern Slavery

As someone instrumental in bringing about the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, Unseen UK chief executive Andrew Wallis told NationalWorld he found the Bill “deeply depressing”.

“We see the horrific brutality that is meted out on these victims… to deny the support and recognition that is so vital to them, it will damage the UK’s reputation [as leaders on modern slavery] around the globe,” he said.

From working with victims, Wallis said they were often “highly exploited”. Their employers frequently used threats of turning them over to authorities or getting them deported to control them, he said.

If you were someone seeking to exploit victims, the new Bill would have you “rubbing your hands with glee”, he said. “You can now say they’re not going to be believed… they’re not going to have access to the support system”.

“We’re playing into the hands of traffickers,” Wallis added. He slammed the new Bill as driven by ideology but not backed up by facts, and said he resented the ongoing rhetoric from government conflating issues like the small boats crisis with modern slavery, “to make sweeping changes… to suggest these people should be punished”.

The Illegal Migration Bill was problematic right down to its title, he said, as a person could never be illegal, and migration was not a crime. It was discriminatory, aimed at “denying them their rights”.

When the UK’s net migration was considered as a whole, asylum seekers arriving on small boats made up less than 9%, Wallis said, and most of the modern slavery victims they dealt with either came into the country via regular entry or were UK nationals.

“This is a very big sledgehammer to crack a very small problem,” he said.

Wallis said it was only a very small number of the approximately 17,000 victims who had been referred to support services via the National Referral Mechanism who had arrived in the UK by irregular means - about 702. But if the Bill was passed into legislation, those 702 victims would be denied the support and recognition they needed, he said. “You can’t claim asylum, you can’t claim you’re a victim of modern slavery.”

The Scottish and Welsh governments have slammed the UK Home Office over its “unacceptable” failure to appoint a new anti-slavery and trafficking champion – almost a year after the role became vacant.

Holyrood said it is concerned about the resulting lack of scrutiny “at a time of extreme rhetoric and UK legislative proposals which will significantly impact victims of trafficking across Scotland and the wider UK”, while the Senedd said the Home Office is “failing to live up to its statutory duties” while at the same time pursuing “regressive” migration legislation.

Is Rwanda safe for refugees?

If the Illegal Migration Bill does pass into law, the Home Office will be reliant on third-countries to deport those who try to enter the UK via small boat crossings. The government has struck a deal with Rwanda, although the arrangement has been mired in legal and practical difficulties so far.

In a recent report from UNHCR assessing the situation for DRC refugees, the agency noted that while refugees enjoy “a favourable protection” in Rwanda, they also face significant challenges.

The report notes that gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the biggest protection concerns for refugee women and children, while most refugee households report “little to no” access to electric energy and access to water below the humanitarian standard of 20 litres per person per day.

Food inflation is also a major issue in Rwanda, with prices rising 12% between May and June 2022, and 54% between June 2021 and June 2022. This has left around one in three refugee households at the threshold of food insecurity, according to UNHCR.

According to the report: “Although there have been improvements in child protection and prevention, risk mitigation and response to gender-based violence over the past few years, GBV and incidents of violence, abuse and exploitation against children remain a concern and still go underreported among the refugee population. Exposure to sexual exploitation and abuse also poses a significant risk to refugee communities in Rwanda”.

Rishi Sunak met with Rwanda President Paul Kagame earlier this week to discuss the partnership, which has been widely criticised as unworkable and expensive, as well as going against the principles of international law around asylum and refugees.

According to a readout of the call, the pair discussed the UK-Rwanda migration partnership and joint efforts to break the business model of criminal people smugglers and address humanitarian issues.