Controversy continues in Westminster over the government’s controversial plans to deal with the small boat crisis after the Lords, with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrought a string of fresh defeats.
The Most Rev Justin Welby warned that immigration and asylum were being used as “a divisive wedge issue”, while peers pressed her call for further changes to the illegal migration law.
These included restrictions on child detention, protection from modern slavery and providing safe and legal routes for refugees into the UK.
This comes after the House of Commons overturned a number of previous revisions to the unelected chamber, despite rebellions from Tory MPs concerned about the flagship reforms.
The interior ministry made several concessions on Monday, including refraining from backdating the deportations to March, when the draft law was first presented to parliament.
But the Lords insist the government relent much more.
The latest nine defeats mean the continuation of Parliament’s bickering over the bill, known as the ping-pong, with legislation being fought between the Lords and Commons until an agreement is reached.
Mr Welby, who was an arch-critic of the reforms, condemning them as “morally unacceptable”, defied the government to back any recent changes.
This included his own renewed call for ministers to draw up a 10-year strategy for international cooperation on refugees and trafficking in the UK.
Mr Welby said: “The issue of immigration and asylum … is an extraordinarily contentious issue.”
The church leader added: “This is a huge international problem on a generational basis and it requires deep, long-term thinking to address it.”
“Legislation and strategy must be adapted to the problem, not the problem to the legislation.” It doesn’t work that way.
“It is important that the solutions we are pushing bring together all politics on all sides of both chambers and the unity of our country, rather than using this as a wedge issue to divide things.”
“So this is a moment of reconciliation and an opportunity for deep and profound long-term reflection, as is the case with climate change, for example.
“This is not a partisan issue, it is one on which we must work together because if we work separately, we will fall separately.”
The leading Anglican cleric was supported by former Labor Home Secretary Lord Blunkett, who said: “If we ever needed a long term strategy of 10 years instead of 10 months and not a strategy geared towards a general election but towards solving a problem. “In order to be able to deal with it internationally and in the long term, we need it now.”
However, Justice Secretary Lord Bellamy replied: “The change is not necessary as the Government recognizes the need to develop strategy and work with international partners.”
The bill is a key part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s attempt to discourage migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing of the English Channel in small boats.
The aim is to prevent people from applying for asylum in the UK if they enter the UK illegally and to ensure they are promptly deported, either to their home country or to a third country.
Other changes made to the bill by colleagues over more than four hours during the vote included protecting LGBT people at risk of deportation and calling for the screening of asylum claims by migrants moving to illegal ways if they have not been deported from the UK within six months.
Home Secretary Lord Murray of Blidworth had warned the latter measure could lead to an increase in people trying to “trick the system” by making false claims in order to shut down time.
But Liberal Democrat Lord German said his amendment “represents merely a backstop protecting this country’s taxpayers from indefinitely supporting people living in limbo in the UK”.
The bill now goes back to the House of Commons to allow MPs to consider the latest changes MPs have made.