Around 100 people gathered outside parliament on Wednesday (5 January) to protest the government’s proposed Nationality and Borders Bill.
The rally came as the legislation entered the House of Lords for its second reading, having been passed by MPs last December.
Samantha Asumadu, founder of Media Diversified and one of the organisers of the event, told the crowd: “They are going to criminalise aid workers. They’re going to let people who should protect us get away with the deaths of people fleeing their countries.”
Among the 23 groups that had organised the event was Save Our Citizenships, a campaign group established specifically to oppose clause nine. The New Statesman has estimated that the clause would affect the citizenship rights of six million people in England and Wales, including two in every five people from a non-white ethnic minority background.
Ali Kazmi, the organisation’s founder, said: “If this bill passes it’s going to rubber stamp a two-tier system of citizenship in this country. It’s scary and dangerous times for us at the moment.”
Also speaking was Raghad Altikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain. She told the New Statesman: “There’s always this blame that Muslims aren’t engaged enough in British society, and that’s what we’ve been working on – making our youth, our women, feel part of this, feel like it’s their full right to be participating in politics and to have a voice. And suddenly this law appears and tells us our citizenship can be targeted at any time.”
Gurpreet Singh Anand, secretary general of the Sikh Council, told the New Statesman he was concerned that the new powers could be used by foreign governments to facilitate the extradition of political dissenters.
In December 2020, three Sikh men from the West Midlands were arrested after the Indian government accused them of involvement in a 2009 murder plot, despite having previously been cleared by a 2011 investigation. In September 2021, the Home Office’s attempt to extradite the men was halted after Westminster Magistrates’ Court found that no new evidence had been presented.
Anand said: “Many Sikhs in this country have ancestry going back to India, including myself. If I say something that upsets the Indian government, what’s to stop them trying to use this mechanism to extradite me? What’s to stop them saying: ‘We know we’ve not had much success with extradition in your courts, so here’s a mechanism which can avoid all public courts and all legalities’?”
Also in attendance was Patrick Vernon, a campaigner for the victims of the Windrush scandal, who told the New Statesman: “Priti Patel should be sorting out the Windrush scandal right now, rather than creating a piece of legislation that will affect more people and create more Windrush scandals in the years to come.”
Hours later, the House of Lords returned from its winter recess and began scrutinising the contents of the controversial bill.
The justice minister and Tory peer David Wolfson introduced the legislation, telling the chamber: “This bill has three key objectives. First, to increase both the fairness and the efficiency of our system. Secondly, to deter illegal entry to the UK. And, thirdly, to remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.”
He added: “We cannot hope to properly control our borders unless we address illegal entry, and that requires comprehensive reform of the asylum system. This bill is fundamental to delivering the change that is so badly needed.”
The Liberal Democrat peer Brian Paddick criticised the bill’s provisions relating to asylum seekers, telling the House: “There are no safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to get to the UK currently in operation, and you can only claim asylum on UK soil. So what are they supposed to do?”
This criticism was echoed by the Labour peer and former shadow attorney general and former director of the Liberty civil rights group, Shami Chakrabarti, who said: “To penalise and even criminalise desperate people in any way for the manner in which they make their escape from persecution to the UK is to violate the letter and the spirit of the Refugee Convention, which was in no small part the world’s apology for some of the darkest moments in the history of last century.”
Of 18 Conservative peers to take the floor, four were critical of the bill. They included former Conservative Party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi, who said: “These proposals would mean that I would have greater protections when being deprived of my driving licence than when being deprived of my nationality.”
Warsi continued: “We, across this house, whatever party we belong to, have been part of the problem. Our respective parties have, over time, torn down that basic belief that all citizens of this country are and should be equal, and that as a citizen you are a permanent member… This problem did not start with clause nine, but it must start to end with clause nine.”
Also among those critical of the legislation was the former Brexit Party MEP and independent peer Claire Fox, who told the House: “What really worries me is the Home Office’s response to all this on clause nine is to say that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Excuse me? Actually, British citizenship is a right for all British citizens, and it worries me that the Home Office considers it their gift to hand down or snatch away.”
Earlier that day, an open letter organised by the advocacy group CAGE and Media Diversified described the Nationality and Borders Bill as “overtly racist”. Signatories included the CEOs of Samaritans and the Runnymede Trust, as well as the British authors Neil Gaiman and Nikesh Shukla, the historian and broadcaster David Olusoga and the barrister Jolyon Maugham QC.
Anas Mustapha, communications manager at CAGE, told the New Statesman: “The question of citizenship rights is going to become a question that will galvanise communities. It’s going to become a litmus test that people use for their elected representatives – do you back a two-tier citizenship programme, or do you back equal rights for all?”
CEO of the Runnymede Trust, Halima Begum, who also signed the letter, told the New Statesman: “This didn’t start with the current home secretary – there’s been a build-up with successive political administrations towards undermining citizenship rights and it has to stop.
“You saw the practical consequences in the Windrush scandal. Nobody goes out to take away citizenship in that way. But what does happen is human error and administrative incompetence – that’s what the Windrush scandal was about. That then leads to mistakes and disasters that have human consequences. You can go back and ask for an appeal, but you’ve lost two or three years of somebody’s life.
“I can’t see any minority in this country feeling safe about this new bill.”