By Mariam Kemple Hardy
This is a positive update on a refugee protection campaign. Yes, you read that right. After a year of the immigration sector battling the brutality of the Nationality and Borders Bill (also known as the “Anti-Refugee Bill”), you’d be forgiven for thinking there is little to smile about. Mostly true. But the Lift the Ban campaign, which demands that people seeking asylum are given the right to work, is in a better place now than it was when the Bill process began.
So, what happened? When the UK Government announced the Nationality and Borders Bill, the 250 organisation-strong Lift the Ban coalition, which includes Just Fair, developed a strategy to use the Bill to raise awareness of the campaign and secure new parliamentary support. Our goals were modest. We know that the parliamentary arithmetic meant achieving a win in the House of Commons against a UK Government whip was practically impossible and that even trying to secure support from the House of Lords could be risky. In the end, while the ban has still not been lifted, the campaign dramatically exceeded expectations – thanks to the hard work of coalition members.
Our work continues. But now, more than ever, we need reasons to be cheerful – so here are ours:
1) We overachieved
After generating early support for the policy in the House of Lords, we decided to push an amendment on the right to work to a vote. We won by 23 votes (89 – 112), including 10 Conservative Peers who rebelled against the UK Government.
We then took it to yet another vote at the start of April, this time winning by 67 votes (132 – 199).
And then WE WON AGAIN in the House of Lords on 26 April (219 – 220). 3 Conservative Peers were so wedded to the cause that – despite huge pressure from Government whips to vote against the amendment – they still voted in support.
2) We secured new Tory allies
We won strong and public support from Conservative MPs as a result of our work. When the amendment came before the House of Commons, 11 Conservative MPs voted in favour and 53 abstained. This was the biggest Tory rebellion in relation to the Nationality and Borders Bill and included political heavyweights such as Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Steve Baker MP and former Cabinet Ministers, such as Sir Robert Buckland MP and Andrew Mitchell MP. Even after the final defeat in the House of Commons, Sir Buckland was writing in CapX the next morning explaining why he will continue to support the campaign.
This all came on top of 66 Conservative MPs and Peers (including at least 27 MPs) writing to the Prime Minister in March to give their support to the policy.
3) We’ve been ALL over ALL the press
When the campaign first launched, we said we wanted to get the message out to a broad range of media, particularly press right of centre. By the final stages of the Bill, the campaign was in the Financial Times, the Times (twice!), Mail on Sunday, CapX (twice!), the Spectator’s Coffee House Shots podcast, and the Times Red Box.
Even once the Bill was passed, the need to give people seeking asylum the right to work was raised unprompted by Ed Davey MP (Lib Dem) during Question Time (41:45), with Camilla Tominey (Associate Editor of the Daily Telegraph) quickly responding to state, “I agree with Ed.”
4) Activists’ voices have been heard
Up and down the country campaigners have been speaking out – and being heard. Experts by experience briefed Peers, 7,000 members of the public emailed their MP, and refugee voices were speaking in the media. This led to Peers quoting lived experience activists in the House of Lords during their debate on the right to work amendment.
5) Our evidence is more robust than ever
We were able to update our financial analysis to show that the UK Government is losing £211m every year as a result of the ban – and that by the end of 2022 they will have lost almost £1 billion in a decade.
We’ve also rubbished UK Government’s claims that the right to work is a pull factor, working with Baroness Stroud (Conservative) to publish this article using country comparison data to prove the point.
6) We’ve increased public support
We started the campaign knowing that 71 per cent of the public supported lifting the ban. This was already an astonishingly high percentage for any political issue, particularly one in relation to immigration. However, polling we undertook in March this year with YouGov SMASHED that. Some 81 per cent of the public now back change.
The challenge is to build on this momentum to get the ban lifted. Although the current UK Government seem trenchantly opposed to the policy, there are ways we can work with the new support we’ve generated to get us over the line. After our experience over the last year, it really is a question of when, not if. And that is the biggest reason to be cheerful of all.
Mariam Kemple Hardy, Head of Campaigns at Refugee Action. Follow her on Twitter @mkemple.
Image by NSN997.