Boris Johnson faces a significant uprising in the House of Commons next week over the Nationality and Borders Act, with at least 27 Tory MPs backing an amendment that would allow asylum seekers to work in the UK pending the outcome of their application.
Conservative colleagues have already defeated the Prime Minister in the House of Lords over the amendment tabled by Baroness Philippa Stroud, former head of the Center for Social Justice think tank.
Now the move has the support of a broad coalition of Conservative MPs ranging from right-wing, such as Steve Baker, to centrist ‘One Nation Tories’, including former cabinet ministers Robert Buckland and Andrew Mitchell.
It also has the support of all opposition parties in the House of Commons and 39 Conservative colleagues, including Lord Jo Johnson – the Prime Minister’s brother – and Baroness Ruth Davidson.
In a letter signed by the 66 conservative politicians and seen by the FT, Stroud called on ministers to consider extending the right to work to asylum seekers and their adult dependents who have been waiting for a decision for more than six months. The move comes ahead of a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday about the changes made to the legislation by the Lords.
The controversial bill would overturn traditional interpretations of the UK’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention by making it a criminal offense to enter the UK illegally to apply for asylum. It would only provide temporary protection to those who can demonstrate their right to refugee status but entered the UK clandestinely to make the claim or entered through a safe third country.
The provisions could affect the rights of Ukrainians fleeing the war if they apply for asylum after traveling to Britain via Poland or Romania, which the UK considers safe countries. However, Ukrainians admitted under the government’s family reunification scheme or under the Homes for Ukraine program are not expected to apply for asylum.
The government faces other potential uprisings over the bill, including from dozens of Tory MPs opposing plans to process asylum seekers’ applications outside the UK.
An Home Office official defended the bill, saying the “vast majority” of voters agreed with the legislation as they wanted to tackle the problem of small boats transporting clandestine immigrants to Britain across the English Channel.
He said it would “fix our broken asylum system” by preventing “people from making and protecting dangerous journeys to the UK”[ing] people in need through safe and legal routes.”
He said the government was opposed to the Stroud amendment, saying allowing asylum seekers to work would be an “attraction” that would encourage more economic migrants to come to Britain. However, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee has said there was no meaningful evidence to substantiate that claim.
Stroud said YouGov polls showed that more than 80 percent of people thought asylum seekers should be given the right to work. “The government has offered Ukrainians the right to work because of the clear benefits the policy brings to the economy and integration,” she said in her letter to the government.
“It seems absurd that in a time of labor shortages, we should keep any asylum seeker – including Afghans, Syrians or Hong Kongers – out of work while waiting for a decision. It’s a policy that would deliver significant tax benefits and aid integration, and it’s consistent with the conservative belief that work is the best way out of poverty.”
Official figures show that 81,000 people were waiting for their first asylum decision.
Additional reporting by Robert Wright
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