Yesterday, parliament discussed the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill . The Bill aims to repeal the laws which allow free movement rights to European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and their family members. It’s not good news, although there is a chance that some amendments might soften the blow.
Expanding the hostile environment, with more powers handed to the Home Office
This legislation would in effect bring three million European residents into the scope of the hostile environment, to face the same precarious status, the same discrimination, the same threat of detention and deportation, as currently faced by non-European citizens.
Moreover, as highlighted by Liberty, the Bill would remove democratic parliamentary scrutiny of future immigration rules, handing more power straight to the Home office. In light of the absolute mess of the immigration and asylum system, and the constant unlawful actions of the Home Office, this a very worrying shift of power away from parliament and into the hands of the department who brought us the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal.
“Shockingly, the Bill lacks any meaningful detail on what a new immigration system will look like, preferring instead to grant Home Office ministers wide-ranging ‘Henry VIII powers’ to amend the law after it has been passed, with minimal scrutiny by MPs. In combination with existing sweeping powers, the Home Office will have a blank cheque to create almost any immigration regulations it sees fit.”Liberty
This cannot be allowed to happen. Principled MPs must stand up for democracy and the rights of freedoms of everyone in the UK – not cede control to the Home Secretary. Liberty is asking for your help to contact MPs, and they have a quick and easy way to do it on their website.
A time limit on detention?
This proposed legislation would bring the threat of detention to millions of people living in Britain. Administrative detention, on the decision of an immigration enforcement worker, not a judge, and with no time limit.
A three-part amendment to the Bill was drawn up by MPs and migrants’ rights organisations, and tabled for discussion at the committee stage this week. In essence, these amendments would introduce a 96-hour initial detention period, where a person would be able to apply for bail, and set a 28 day time limit with rules to reduce the chance of being re-detained later.
However, there is a catch. The committee clerks have ruled that any amendments can only be in relation to the people affected by this Bill: European nationals. They currently comprise just under 20% of people in detention. No asylum seekers, no Windrush victims, anyone from outside Europe is excluded from the proposed time limit.
In tabling the amendment, Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal khan MP said:
As is clear from the new clauses that I have tabled, our preference is for a time limit on detention for everyone, no matter what country they are from, but to get the provision within the scope of the Bill, we have narrowed it to just those who lose their right to free movement as a result of the Bill.Afzal Khan MP, Shadow Immigration Minister
Afzal, who has long been a supporter of the These Walls Must Fall campaign, clearly laid out the arguments against indefinite detention.
He described it as a rule of law issue, a serious intervention by the state to deprive someone of their liberty for an administrative purpose without judicial oversight. As a health issue, referencing the extensive research documenting the harm that is caused. An equalities and human rights issue, with various human rights articles violated by indefinite detention. And there is also a cost issue: immigration detention is massively expensive, costing over £150million a year, and it does not even work for its stated purpose.
But these amendments are only a time limit for Europeans, in a Bill that is taking away their free movement rights, so is it worth supporting?
Some have chosen to stand against the Bill in its entirety, and campaign for MPs to vote it down. This is what is being proposed by networks such as Another Europe is Possible, as part of a campaign to stop Brexit and calling for free movement to be defended and extended.
It can be argued that the chances of stopping Brexit and this Bill are slim, so the best that can be hoped for is to curb some of the Home Office powers and use this opportunity to bring in a time limit on detention. The amendments may even be extended to include all people at a later stage in the Bills passage through parliament (likely to last until May).
On the other hand, they may be dropped altogether, be voted down, or be replaced with alternative watered down amendments that exclude even more people (for example people with previous criminal convictions. Read this blog post from Right to Remain on why we must not leave people behind, and this piece from Michael Darko of Freed Voices on why if human rights are to mean anything then they must be applied universally.
Members of the Detention Forum are calling on people to campaign for support for the amendments, and for them to be universal. You can take action by contacting your MP using the Detention Action online form, and/or by highlighting the campaign through social media.