Illegal Migration Bill: letter to UK government

Letter from Constitution Secretary to Minister of State for Immigration urging UK Government not to progress bill.

To: Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Minister of State for Immigration
From: Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

I acknowledge the notice of the Illegal Migration Bill given to my colleague Neil Gray MSP, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, shortly before its introduction on Tuesday 7 March. Despite improving engagement between our governments on migration issues in recent months, I am disappointed in the lack of opportunity to comment and consider these proposals properly before their introduction.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly raised concerns about the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Act and New Plan for Immigration. It is clear that the measures the UK Government has set out previously will not achieve the change that is desperately needed in our asylum and immigration systems to make it humane, dignified and fit for purpose. Your previous plans alongside this Bill are likely to increase people’s risk of exploitation and destitution. The Scottish Government does not support the Bill for a variety of reasons and urges you to reverse your plans and not progress this damaging bill.

Safe and legal routes must exist in the UK for people in search of safety and protection from war and persecution. This is the only realistic way to disrupt the business model human traffickers use to exploit already vulnerable people seeking refuge. Your Bill however, goes further to push people in need of protection into exploitation and destitution. People seeking asylum should be treated with fairness and respect at all stages of the asylum process. The victims of human trafficking and exploitation are amongst the most vulnerable people in society and removing their access to the dignity and support they deserve following horrific experiences is utterly inconceivable.

The UK needs an effective, efficient asylum system which delivers for the people who have been forced to seek a place of safety from war, persecution and violence, as well as our communities. Instead of dismantling the system further, the UK Government should be investing in the quality and speed of decision making to reduce the number of people left in limbo awaiting a decision and reliant on the UK asylum system for accommodation and support. That is the only way to uphold the UK’s international responsibilities to recognise and protect people forced to flee persecution.

In addition, by your own admission the impact of this proposed legislation is UK-wide, with specific effects on local authorities for which responsibilities are devolved. This approach once again fails to recognise Scotland’s distinct social, economic and demographic needs. Worse, we suspect yet again that some of the measures in this bill might encroach on already devolved powers and competence - if so, this would be unacceptable.

We are currently reflecting seriously on the detail of the UK Bill introduced today and how this relates to the legislative consent process. We will inform you if we identify areas where legislative consent may be needed in the Bill as introduced or in subsequent amendments during the passage of the Bill.

Scottish Ministers remain committed to providing support and assistance to those seeking safety in Scotland, including those identified as potential victims of human trafficking. Scotland should be an open and welcoming country, in control of its own immigration and asylum systems. With independence Scotland can leave behind the ‘hostile environment’ that characterises the UK Government’s approach. Instead, we would encourage and support people to make Scotland their home.

The Illegal Migration Bill deepens already significant damage to the UK’s reputation as a place of refuge and our credibility with international partners. We should be proudly upholding the UN Refugee Convention and supporting people in need of protection, not cruelly undermining its international protection.

I will respond with our considered position imminently.






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