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How legal is Priti Patel's anti-refugee bill?

By Kristen Palmer

Aims of the Bill

The core principle of the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill involves the criminal and administrative penalisation of asylum claimants who enter the UK illegally. For example, anyone arriving in the UK via an illegal route “could have their claim ruled as inadmissible, receive a jail sentence of up to four years, have no recourse to public funds, and could have their family members barred from joining them.” [1]

The controversial Bill aims to (i) make the asylum system fairer, (ii) deter illegal entrants to the UK, and (iii) remove individuals who have no right to be in the UK.

The potential illegality of the Bill

A legal report commissioned by the human rights group, Freedom from Torture, maintains that the provisions of the Bill would potentially violate articles 31 and 33 of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention. Further, the report indicates that the bill would breach articles 2, 3, and 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) through, for example, proposals to send asylum seekers to offshore centres while their applications were processed. Moreover, the proposal to adopt an expedited, accelerated appeals process to “fast-track” cases would risk unfairness under common law and potentially breach articles 2, 3, 4, 8, and 13 of the ECHR. [2]

Response of the UK Government

The Home Office's insiders rejected the report, maintaining that the Refugee Convention allows for the bill’s proposed treatment of refugees if the refugees have not directly come from a country where they were persecuted. [3]

Asserting that the UK is the third highest contributor of overseas development aid in the world, Home Office officials contended that “the new Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is testament to the kind of agile, flexible approach to resettlement that the UK can now deliver to those fleeing persecution, oppression, and tyranny”. [4]

The Home Office completely rejects the reports’ claims, stating that the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill “complies with all our international obligations, including under the European convention on human rights and the UN refugee convention.” [5]


[1] Rajeev Syal, ‘Priti Patel’s borders bill ‘breaches international and domestic law’’, (The Guardian, 12 Oct 2021) <> accessed 27 Dec 2021

[2] ‘In the Matter of: Nationality and Borders Bill’ (Freedom from Torture, 7 Oct 2021) <> accessed 26 Dec 2021

[3] “Facts about the Borders Bill”, (Home Office in the media, 6 July 2021) <> accessed 26 Dec 2021

[4] Rajeev Syal, ‘Priti Patel’s borders bill ‘breaches international and domestic law’’

[5] Ibid.


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