Awale Olad is the Public & Parliamentary Affairs Officer at Migrants Rights Network, coordinating the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration. Here is his report the recent passage of the Immigration Bill through the House of Commons.
Theresa May introduced a last minute amendment to the Immigration Bill that damaged Nigel Mills’ chance of further unsettling the government’s nerve over this already cluttered legislation. The new amendment would extend the Home Secretary’s ability to strip the citizenship of naturalised immigrants if they are ‘not conducive to the public good’. Unsurprisingly, this amendment was debated for the longest period of time, which meant most other amendments weren’t addressed. The Home Secretary has, since the early 1980s, had the ability to strip the citizenship of British nationals and this amendment allows her to use it a lot more often – so there was nothing new here.
The votes were the interesting aspect of this amendment. The Labour Party abstained en masse from the vote. Only a minority of Labour MPs, supported by a couple of Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party MPs stood against the clause. Conservative MPs and the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs supported the amendment.
Labour’s abstention can be observed in two ways. First, it allows the Labour party not to be seen as opposing this ‘hostile’ aplomb. Second, if they come to power in 2015, they will have the opportunity to strip citizenships more rigorously without having to go through the hassle of introducing these extra powers.
The introduction of the clause at such a late stage was a way of trying to restrain Mills’ amendment, which was the main victim of the tactical last minute change. It also meant some Tory MPs found it an uncomfortable overture with Alok Sharma calling for ‘similar sanctions’ to be introduced ‘against anyone who is British, irrespective of how they got British citizenship’. Another Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, argued that there should be ‘equality before the law’ and the proposals could ‘create a potential unfairness and a second category of citizen’. Both, however, voted in favour of the amendment.
The only backbench amendment to be debated and voted on was Dominic Raab’s proposal to automatically deport all foreign criminals unless it causes overwhelming harm to the child of the said criminal, which goes against the prinicples of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Like the Mills amendment, this proposal split the Conservative Party and strained relations between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.
David Cameron couldn’t rally his party against this measure and had to find a way of avoiding the headache of having to force his euro-sceptic frontbenchers to vote against Raab. He and the Conservative part of the Government abstained from the vote, which left only the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to shoot it down. Some Labour MPs, mainly former Home Secretaries, supported Raab. Last time a rebellion of this level over the EU was quashed, Cameron’s authority was left in tatters with some frontbenchers and ministerial bag carriers like Jesse Norman MP locking horns with the Prime Minister in public. Abstention saves everyone from unnecessary aggravation.
Some political commentators remarked that the combination of Labour and Lib Dem against Raab was a sign of the future Coalition government (but most failed to make the same observation about the Con-Lib vote in favour of citizenship stripping). It is more likely that Labour felt it could do without a law that commits them to a future showdown with Europe on dismantling the ECHR if they come to power in 2015.
The Bill will now make its way into the House of Lords and receive a great level of scrutiny. With the Coalition Government intent on accelerating this ‘hostile’ flagship Bill, it is likely that the Lords, often seen as the more progressive House in Parliament, will flood the Bill with a number amendments to water down the Bill to Theresa May’s chagrin.
This blog was first published on Migrants Rights Network website on 3 February 2014.