With a large Commons majority, Johnson’s government may think it’s invincible. But on 20 January, it suffered a triple defeat against its increasingly harsh and cruel Brexit bill. At least for now, there’s a glimmer of hope for EU citizens, child refugees, and justice.
Avoiding another Windrush
Peers in the House of Lords handed Johnson the first defeat of this government by insisting EU citizens should be given physical proof of their right to remain in the UK after Brexit. According to the Independent:
The estimated 3.6m EU residents in the UK fear victimisation without physical documents after Brexit, including by immigration officials as happened in the Windrush scandal.
Lib Dem peer Jonny Oates tabled an amendment which won by 41 votes. Oates said it:
simply seeks to uphold the promise repeatedly made by Boris Johnson that the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK would be automatically guaranteed.
An estimated “900,000 UK-based EU nationals” still haven’t applied for secure status. Some may wrongly assume that they’ll face immediate rejection if they earn under £30,000. Oates tabled the amendment because many reportedly fear they could be “automatically criminalised and subject to deportation”.
Lawyer and activist Peter Stefanovic highlighted the dangers of Johnson’s government:
It should be incomprehensible to everyone that Boris Johnson’s Government voted against giving EU citizens, our friends & our neighbours, a document allowing them physical proof of their right to stay in the UK after Brexit. This should be of deep concern to us all
— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) January 21, 2020
And many people warned about the potential danger of “another Windrush” – this one affecting EU citizens:
It is heartbreaking that just a few years after the government's unlawful deportation and detention of black British citizens was exposed, we are risking similar treatment of Europeans who we invited to come here.
We cannot allow another Windrush.https://t.co/J7LgcPCilk
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) January 16, 2020
EU nationals have been wrongly asked for proof of their post-Brexit immigration status by recruiters, landlords, banks, GPs and hospitals, local councils and schools
Brexit is turning them into second-class citizens
Another Windrush scandal is brewinghttps://t.co/3gXiCFFc2H
— MollyMEP (@MollyMEP) January 20, 2020
What could possibly be wrong with giving EU citizens, our friends & our neighbours, physical documents to prove they have the right to live here after Brexit? Have the Tories really learned nothing from the Windrush scandal? https://t.co/Eenn4vE4z4
— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) January 20, 2020
Peers also backed another amendment by Labour’s Alf Dubs. On 8 January, Johnson’s government repealed an amendment that “protected the rights of unaccompanied child refugees” to join family in the UK. The Lords voted against this by 279 votes to 172 and backed Dubs’ new amendment to give local authorities more say in helping child refugees. Dubs told the Independent this affects children:
in desperately difficult circumstances… sleeping under tarpaulins at Calais or in awful circumstances on Lesbos.
Ahead of the vote, Vanessa Redgrave said:
what the government has tried to do, and will succeed if we don’t stop them, is inhuman.
#VanessaRedgrave the Government is inhuman. In March 1939 Hitler walked into Czechoslovakia then Poland. Evacuees and refugees seek relatives – it is the human safety strategy. Thank goodness for @AlfDubs thank goodness for @safepassageuk pic.twitter.com/YaIqfOoeX6
— Anthony Kelly #FBPE #IAmEuropean (@Anthony_M_Kelly) January 21, 2020
Green MP Caroline Lucas welcomed the Lords vote:
Good – ministers deserved to be defeated in the Lords on terrible decision to remove clause from Withdrawal Bill which guaranteed the rights of unaccompanied children to come to UK
Too much to hope Tories in the Commons develop a bit of compassion too? https://t.co/PksrCGQBHo
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) January 20, 2020
In a triple whammy, peers also voted against Johnson’s push to allow British judges to overturn European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings after Brexit. Peers defeated this by 241 votes to 205. According to the Independent, Theresa May committed to transfer all “EU law onto the domestic statute books”, which meant only the Supreme Court or the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland had power to change these. Johnson wants to give lower courts powers to overturn ECJ rulings. But ahead of the vote, the Lords committee stressed:
We do not believe it is appropriate for courts other than the Supreme Court and the Scottish High Court of Justiciary to have power to depart from the interpretations of EU case law.
Allowing lower courts to reinterpret EU case law risks causing significant legal uncertainty that would be damaging to individuals and companies.
One Twitter user summed up the importance of this defeat:
Peers, including Tory peers, said the government’s plan raised “substantial constitutional concerns” and said it was “not appropriate” for courts other than the Supreme Court or the Scottish High Court of Justiciary to have the power to depart from EU law.
— Rob de Nazar🔶🌿🌈 United Opposition🧡💚❤️💛 👍 (@robdn) January 21, 2020
These votes highlight just how dangerous Johnson’s majority government truly is. The Lords may be controversial and unelected, but as it stands, it’s our best hope to defeat the abject cruelty underpinning legislation the Tories will keep trying to bulldoze through.
Featured image via ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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