The Nationality and Borders bill is dealt another blow after being voted down in Welsh Parliament


While the nationality and borders bill is still at the committee stage in Westminster and Peers debate new amendments and suggestions, the Welsh government has taken a firm stance against it. The bill was rejected in the Welsh parliament on Tuesday evening, with 39 votes against and only 15 in favour.

No escaping familiar issues

Ministers present during the debate denounced the bill. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrate have previously argued it would fundamentally change the principles of refugee protection by frustrating "irregular" asylum seekers who haven't applied for asylum before entering the UK.

Image credit: Julie Ricard, 2020

They could face up to four years in prison, among other worrying proposals, including the creation of offshore processing centres, which pose numerous risks to the well-being of displaced people (consider Australia as a live example of the abuses associated with these centres). This is in addition to establishing a "two-tiered system" for obtaining asylum. People who are deemed not to have entered the UK through what are considered safe and legal routes will be denied the full benefits of the 1951 Refugee Convention under the bill. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, this will deprive many displaced people of their human right to family reunion.

Leading immigrant safety organisations, such as Refugee Action, have cited the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as an example of why the bill represents a backwards step.

"Refugees feel there is little choice other than to cross the Channel in flimsy boats because the government refuses to open up alternative routes to safety."

Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, speaking to The Guardian in September 2021

Clause 9 and the fight against statelessness

You will likely be aware that through Clause 9, the government also intends to expand the Secretary of State's powers to deprive people of their UK citizenship without notice if it is considered to be in the interests of national security, the United Kingdom's relationship with another country, or the public interest.

The New Statesman's Ben van der Merwe traced the links late last year, revealing that roughly two out of every five persons from non-white global ethnic majority groupings in the UK (41 percent) were eligible to be affected by the proposed measure.

Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt proposed a legislative consent memorandum (which effectively allows devolved legislatures like the Scottish and Welsh parliaments to determine if they agree with the UK Parliament adopting a bill on a devolved topic). Hutt, who has gone on record to describe the bill's proposals on channel crossings as "barbaric," took particular issue over powers that would allow the Home Secretary to assess the age of asylum seekers.

"Refugee Council works with hundreds of children every year who have their age disputed – that is, where the Home Office or a local authority believes them to be an adult when they say they are a child. It is vital that all children are treated as children, and given the support they need, including access to services such as education and foster care. Many children each year are wrongly assessed as adults, and then have to live with adult strangers in asylum accommodation. Ultimately, these children have a right to a full age assessment from a trained social worker, but the government now wants to change the process whereby local authority social workers, by conducting assessments where they see fit, have the main responsibility for deciding who is a child and who is not." 

The Refugee Council on ‘scientific methods’ for assessing age, November 2021

The bill was labelled as "an impending tragedy" by First Minister Mark Drakeford, while Huw Irranca-Davies, a member of the Senedd for Ogmore, expressed concern at "the lack of constructive engagement from the UK government on this issue." At the same time, Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru derided the bill as a totem to British nationalism.

During the debate, she remarked, "What this UK Nationality and borders bill does is take rights away. The values of contemporary welsh nationalism as manifested in the politics of Plaid Cymru are fundamentally opposed to the xenophobic British nationalism embodied in this bill."

Mayowa Ayodele