David Simmonds is the MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner and Chairman of the APPG on Migration.
I was pleased to be able to speak in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill last week. It is an important Bill, which aims to increase the fairness of the system to better protect and support those in need of asylum, deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger and remove those with no right to be in the UK more easily.
The Nationality section of the Bill has not received much attention even though it performs the important role of fixing outdated nationality laws. This Bill gives the Home Secretary power to grant British citizenship to people who would have become British citizens if not for unfairness and exceptional circumstances beyond their control.
It provides further flexibility to waive residency requirements, to help members of the Windrush Generation and others acquire British citizenship more quickly. And it will mean children unfairly denied British Overseas Territories Citizenship will finally be able to acquire British citizenship.
I also welcome some of the measures which have been announced to strengthen the immigration system. I have personally seen, on a visit to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, smugglers driving around offering a list of services with being smuggled into the UK in a British-plated car with a British driver as one of the more expensive options and a much more dangerous channel crossing or breaking into a lorry as the cheaper options.
This has led to some particularly hideous cases in the UK where large numbers of refugees have died in the hands of those criminals because of the way in which they are being smuggled into our country, so it is absolutely right that we do everything in our power to tackle people smugglers.
Alongside the focus on people smugglers and channel crossings, media coverage of the Bill has been dominated by the power to treat refugees differently, depending on the nature of their arrival in the UK and whether they have come to the UK directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened.
In parallel to this power, I would like to see an expansion of safe and legal routes to ensure that those who are fleeing persecution are able to settle in the UK. I welcome the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that from October, refugees resettled into the UK will be granted indefinite leave to remain on arrival in the UK, free of charge.
The announcement of an emergency resettlement mechanism working with the UN refugee agency which will identify refugees in need of emergency resettlement from anywhere in the world and fast-track them into the UK, will cut down on bureaucracy and enable resettlement in a matter of weeks.
As I have written before, the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme has been a great British success story and we should model our response to future resettlement based upon it. However, we must understand that we cannot undertake resettlement on the cheap. The Syrian refugee resettlement scheme was well-funded and because of the additional resources and checks, it garnered a huge amount of public goodwill and was effective in securing public confidence.
Of course, as a Conservative I completely appreciate, now more than ever, that we must be responsible in spending taxpayer’s money. We already spend an eye-watering sum of money on the asylum system; over £1 billion a year. An easy way to significantly reduce the cost of the asylum system would be to end the ban on asylum seekers working.
At the moment, asylum seekers are effectively banned from working and are forced to claim benefits. Lifting the ban would instantly see benefits paid to asylum seekers reduced considerably, tax receipts would increase as well as allowing highly qualified asylum seekers to plug gaps in areas where we are seeing significant shortages. Cutting bureaucracy like this is especially vital now as policymakers begin to plan how they will pay down the huge Coronavirus debt.
Furthermore, the Government must not shunt the cost of the asylum system to local authorities in the form of attaching no recourse to public fund conditions (NRPF) to asylum seekers. People with NRPF do not have access to the welfare system, even if they have been paying into the system through their taxes. Migrants who become destitute often receive emergency support from local councils because of the statutory duty of local authorities to support vulnerable adults and families with children in their jurisdiction, further extending the black hole in council finances.
Instead, we must work towards a system which is tough on people smugglers and criminals who seek to take advantage of our hospitality but one that ensures we extend this hospitality to the most needy and vulnerable. A system that is efficient and works for taxpayers and local communities whilst providing support for refugees and opportunities for integration.