The British government has recently faced a string of defeats in the House of Lords over its controversial Immigration Bill.
Against the backdrop of the Conservative Party conference, and some toxic anti-asylum-seeker rhetoric from Home Secretary, Priti Patel, members of the House of Lords emphatically voted against the government’s plans.
The five government defeats largely concerned amendments about the rights of immigrants in the UK. Not least the Dubbs amendment, aimed to protect the rights of unaccompanied child refugees. However, the Lords are also concerned with the rights of British citizens living in the EU.
For people protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, the Lords propose provisions for UK citizens “to return to the United Kingdom accompanied by, or to be joined in the United Kingdom by, close family members”.
Peers also backed not placing financial restrictions on Brits returning to the UK with their EU families from March 2022.
For those residing in the EU, the issue of being separated from close family members is important.
While many people intend to spend their whole lives in Spain, our personal circumstances or plans can easily change. This is highly relevant for people with family in two or more countries.
How can anyone choose between a dependent in the UK and one in Spain? Nobody should be forced to make that decision.
Thanks to Brexit, we must adjust to a new normality. It rubs salt in our wounds that the EU is more willing to protect our rights – including freedom of movement – than the British government has ever been.
When the Brexit talks started, our freedom of movement was on the negotiating table. It did not remain there for long, once prime minister, Theresa May, insisted on her red lines. To ensure that EU citizens’ rights in the UK were restricted, the rights of UK citizens in the EU became collateral damage in the negotiations.
During her time as Home Secretary, May was renowned for the “hostile environment” towards immigrants and the controversial “go home” vans.
Anti-immigration feeling already existed in the UK, but it reached new heights during the Brexit campaign. It still prevails at the Conservative party conference, with workers who protect the human rights of asylum seekers being insultingly labelled “do-gooders” and “leftie lawyers”
.We don’t have empirical evidence to suggest that most of the British public is anti-immigrant. Indeed, industry – not least the NHS and care sector – has called for a more flexible approach to EU immigration. Recent speeches by the government, and the Immigration Bill itself, have done nothing to suggest their opinion on immigration has softened.
What comes next regarding the controversial Immigration Bill, and does the position of the House of Lords make any difference? While the Lords don’t make law, their strong opposition to any proposed government plans can impact a bill passing through parliament.
When the Immigration Bill returns to the House of Commons, MPs will debate the Lords’ amendments. Consequently, some MPs may be persuaded to soften their stance. At the very least, the Lords have raised the key issues to public and media scrutiny, as well as slowing the process of the bill passing into law.
As has been proved recently by other notable U-turns, the British government is willing to change its plans to avoid any humiliating defeat in the House of Commons. We must hope that the opinions of the Lords have filtered down to wavering MPs.
It might help the cause if you email your own MP and request a show of compassion for immigrant families in the UK and in the EU.
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain