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Editorial: The borders Bill is a threat to refugees – but also to all our rights

LABOUR is right to sound the alarm over “shameful and Orwellian” provisions in the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

It was Tony Benn who observed that “the way a government treats refugees is very instructive, because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.”

Legislation justified on the grounds of “protecting” Britain’s borders is not just a step away from our obligations to refugees, undermining the Geneva Convention, as the UN High Commission for Refugees has warned.

It is also another power-grab by the state which extends its powers over citizens — including to deprive them of citizenship.

It is appalling given the racist mistreatment of black British citizens wrongfully deported in the Windrush scandal that ministers are pushing a new law that could make nearly six million people — overwhelmingly non-white citizens — eligible to have their citizenship removed, without even being formally notified.

Government protestations that these figures are irrelevant, since people are only deprived of citizenship as a last resort and the punishment is “rare,” don’t address the fundamental problem that if you grant the state more powers, they will be used.

Tory MP Richard Graham may accuse Labour of “scaremongering,” but his claim that “Where someone has a single nationality only, they cannot have this revocation of nationality” is not correct.

Even existing law risks making people stateless if the British government’s view of their citizenship status is disputed by other states, as we saw in the Shamima Begum case, where British claims that this British-born woman was also a Bangladeshi citizen were expressly denied by Bangladesh. (This ability to render people stateless was part of the same 2014 Immigration Act that led to Windrush).

The clause in the new Bill that removes the obligation on the Home Secretary to inform people when it deprives them of citizenship if they deem silence to be “in the public interest” marks a further step towards unaccountable state power over us.

Giving the government power to detain asylum-seekers offshore — an echo of the barbaric overseas detention of refugees by Australia — increases the likelihood of abuse, while cutting off refugees from support and solidarity action.

Penalising those who arrive by “irregular routes” creates a two-tier system in which the most desperate and vulnerable people, who are least likely to be able to access the already near non-existent approved routes, will be criminalised.

And the citizenship provisions are a vivid illustration that the rights of people in this country, especially working-class people from ethnic minority backgrounds, are bound up with the rights of people seeking safety on our shores.

This Bill is part of a raft of authoritarian legislation that is reshaping the British state.

It is of a piece with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that allows police to determine when we are and are not allowed to protest, and hands them powers to imprison protest organisers for up to 51 weeks if they fail to comply with police-imposed conditions — and up to 10 years if their protest causes “serious annoyance.”

We know from Home Secretary Priti Patel’s own public remarks who government hopes to target with these new powers — environmental activists such as those of Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.

It echoes the measures already enacted in the Spycops Act to put state agents above the law, and in the Overseas Operations Act aimed at stopping soldiers from being held accountable for crimes committed abroad.

After the horrific deaths of 27 refugees in the Channel last month, we should all be demanding a different approach to the global refugee crisis, one that recognises our obligation to protect.

And we should recognise too the prescience of Tony Benn’s warning. What we allow our government to do to others it will also do to us, given the opportunity.

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