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Nationality and Borders Act: Flag-waving can't cover the cracks

A protester in a Boris Johnson mask demonstrates against the Nationality and Borders Bill

Nationality and Borders Act: Flag-waving can't cover the cracks

With opposition from the House of Lords and devolved legislatures, the UK's parliaments are far from united on this

With a wave of the Union flag, the Nationality and Borders Bill becomes law.

The Home Office graphics proclaim it so on social media, the text emboldened across a golden yellow background.

It's a colour commonly used within graphic design to convey the idea of optimism and opportunity, sunshine and success.

After protracted parliamentary ping pong and condemnation from everyone from Scottish children's charity Aberlour to the UN's own refugee agency, it is unarguable that this is a success for the UK Government, but it is a bitter victory, and one from which broader wins are far from certain.

The Nationality and Borders Act allows the Conservative government to make real the two-tier asylum system they've long proposed. It allows the transportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda. It allows the criminalisation of those who arrive without prior consent.

It allows the government to turn its back on the principles of the UN Refugee Convention, even as it promises that it is fixing a "broken system" and making things "fairer".

The wrapping of the legislation, which provoked so much fury in the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament, attempts also to cover over the fact that on this issue, the legislatures of the United Kingdom are very far from united. The government is isolating itself from the other chambers, both devolved and reserved, that make our political system work, in fostering an anti-asylum agenda that plays to a particular section of our society.

During its bill stages, the Act was dubbed "anti-refugee". Others straight-forwardly called it racist. Either way, the tone is now set; "Global Britain" is not open to the world. Not, at least, to those fleeing persecution, torture, sexual violence, or the threat of forced disappearance or murder.

And at what cost? The £120m price stated for the Rwanda deal is unlikely to cover the real costs, if the Australian experience this draws from is anything to go on. And what of the loss to the UK of all that talent, all those skills, all the valuable contributions that could be made to the economy and society by people who will now be rejected under the terms of the Act?

At what cost to the families? At what cost to the UK's international reputation and standing as it reaches out across the world, post-Brexit?

And of course, it's been passed at a time of war in Europe, when the "safe and legal" schemes set up by the government - which tells us that those seeking asylum must only use safe and legal schemes - are admitting through just a trickle of Ukrainian applicants and condemning whole families to remain in danger or in limbo.

Last night I spoke with a man in Iran. He's there with his family; his wife and all five kids. The youngest hasn't yet turned two. They're Afghans and were granted travel to the UK in the chaos of Operation Pitting last summer, but after a yes-no flip-flop from authorities (permission was granted, then withdrawn, then granted again on a basis that even the man himself doesn't know) they were left behind, unable to make it through the crowds outside Kabul airport for airlift before a suicide bombing killed other members of the crowd.

They went home and hid again. The father - we'll call him Abdullah - was an interpreter for UK forces and already carries the gunshot wounds from a Taliban attack that left him playing dead in a ditch. After enlisting the help of an English law firm, they won a visa bid through the courts in February.

It's now April and no papers have yet arrived. They don't know why; noone at the embassy will tell them. But their Iranian visas are running out and they see those narrow doors to the UK closing before them.

This is just one young family - maybe, hopefully, they'll get the paperwork they need to travel legally, in accordance with what has already been decided. The Home Office says they'll arrive next week, and there is no suggestion that this family would take the risk of travelling without paperwork. But the case serves to highlight the complexity of the systems and the huge barriers present for people legitimately and rationally seeking refuge for themselves and their families. Families who are applying to the correct schemes and submitting successful applications, yet still being locked out.

It doesn't matter how you wrap it up, there's no optimism or opportunity in the Nationality and Borders Act for them, and no sunshine or success.

The impacts of this legislation will not end at our borders, but they will be felt in communities across the UK.

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