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Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 18th May 2020.

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Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham 7:19 pm, 18th May 2020

I will not be voting for this Bill. I do not believe it should even be permitted to proceed through this House, and I tabled a reasoned amendment to that effect. The Bill certainly should not proceed at this time, when we are in the midst of a global pandemic.

The Government’s approach is fatally flawed. In plain language, it puts the cart before the horse and post-Brexit immigration legislation before the legal, economic and trade relationship with the EU is in any way settled. Our relationship with the EU will remain our most important external economic relationship for years to come, and it is important to get that right. Our immigration system should fit into that, not the other way around. Worse still, the Bill is supplemented by a whole slew of Henry VIII powers.

My constituents did not elect me to this House to hand away the right to speak up for them and represent them on these issues. What does our democracy even mean if any Government are given the opportunity to make laws that so fundamentally affect people’s lives and the economy with little scrutiny and behind closed doors? That is essentially a constitutional power grab. No Government should be given a blank cheque that they can redeem any time they are in trouble or are tempted to whip up anti-migrant sentiment as a distraction. Who would trust this Government with these powers? Immigration policy brought in by this Government has been bad enough as it is.

This will be the second time in the past 10 years that a Conservative Government have retrospectively changed the rights of migrants after they have entered this country, lived here, settled here, had children here, opened businesses here and paid taxes here. The Government did it in 2014 to the Windrush generation, and we saw just how many suffered, but as they are pressing ahead with the Bill, it seems that no lessons were learned. The Government’s commitments on EU nationals’ rights are meaningless if not underpinned by primary legislation and if they are not granted automatic settled status. The Bill does neither.

We cannot continue to allow Governments to keep passing legislation like this. It leaves migrants and their children asking at what point their rights in this country—their home—are truly secure. Instead of giving reassurances and creating a migration system that is fair, respects human rights and benefits our economy, this Government have opted simply to subject EU nationals to the same failed and inhumane hostile environment policies that they have had for people from outside the EU.

Children born here and who have lived here their whole life are asked to pay more than £1,000 to be British. Families are split apart because of the arbitrary minimum income threshold. Data sharing with the Home Office makes the most vulnerable scared to use services. The Government continue with no recourse to public funds, even though the courts have ruled it unlawful and the coronavirus has proved it inhumane. They detain people for months on end, even the victims of torture and trafficking—longer than any other country in Europe —only to eventually release nearly 70% of them, allowing private companies to profit from their misery. This Bill and the Government’s points-based system end none of those things.

In fact, the Bill does not even help our work shortages. The Institute for Public Policy Research has shown that under the income threshold, 69% of EU nationals would not be eligible. To all those who call such workers “low skilled”, I say that those earning below the salary threshold are not low skilled at all. There is no such thing as low-skilled work; just low-paid work. All work is skilled when it is done well. Persisting down this line is a slap in the face to those many key workers who are low paid and who have been our backbone throughout this pandemic. How callous is it to bring forward the Bill without being sensitive to those matters?

We need a fair immigration policy that does not retrospectively strip people of their rights—an immigration policy that meets this country’s needs and ultimately ends the hostile environment. The Government are not in any way attempting to do that. History proved right those brave few who voted against the Immigration Act 2014, and I urge all Members to vote down this disgraceful piece of legislation today.