The Government’s Anti-Asylum Bill took its second bull charge through the House of Commons this week, condemned by everyone from Tory MPs to Council of Europe to the United Nations. To dance around the moral rot behind this Bill, Conservative MPs like Suella Braverman are dismissing outrage as the concern of an “activist blob”.
Who’s part of this activist blob? If the past year under this Tory Government is anything to go by, the blob is well on its way to subsuming the entire world. Over the last 12 months, it seems like every international organisation worth its salt has had to condemn the UK Government’s latest cruel, authoritarian, or simply wrongheaded action. From supranational congresses to think tanks, charities and even organised religion, the Tories have provided each sound-minded and morally-unblinkered body with plenty to object to. Let’s have a look back at the 8 of these high profile interventions into UK politics that this Government has provoked in the past year.
1. The Council of Europe
Not to be confused with the EU, who have also condemned the Bill, other signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights were, unsurprisingly, troubled by the Government’s Anti-Asylum Bill, not least because it breaks many of its rules. In a letter to Parliament this week, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, called on lawmakers to reject the Bill. Citing an increasingly hostile environment for people seeking asylum in the UK, Mijatovic’s letter warned that the advancement of this Bill is fundamentally “incompatible” with the UK’s international obligations.
2. The UN
So objectionable are the terms of the Anti-Asylum Bill that the top dog of international bodies had to step in. The UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that it was “profoundly concerned” by the Bill and cautioned that it would extinguish the internationally-recognised right to seek asylum. They also debunked the Government’s commonly-parroted talking point about claiming asylum in the ‘first safe country’ you reach, which exists, ironically, in EU law, not in international law.
3. Every Abrahamic religion
The People of the Book have spoken, and they’re unanimous: the Anti-Asylum Bill is asur/haram/sinful. The Board of Deputies of British Jews reported “significant concerns” and reminded the Government that most British Jews descend from refugees, while the Muslim Council of Britain called the Bill “cruel” and demanded it be scrapped. Given their affinity for one of history’s most famous refugees–Jesus–a slew of Christian organisations have also condemned the Anti-Asylum Bill. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales demanded an end to the dehumanisation of people seeking asylum, while the Anglican Archbishop of York slammed the Bill as “cruelty without purpose”.
4. Amnesty International
At this point, Amnesty International probably has a Google drive full of documents like “Condemn_UK_Goverment_Template_Version_3”, and for good reason. As it entered Lords this January, they warned the Public Order Bill was “deeply draconian” and expressed serious worry about its “chilling effect” on civic dialogue in the UK. This month, the Anti-Asylum Bill drew an even sharper rebuke, with their Refugee and Migrant Rights Director branding the move “a shocking new low”. Most recently, in their annual review published this week, Amnesty charged the UK Government with “bulldozing” human rights and cautioned that the UK was fast turning into “a negative force for human rights on the world stage.”
5. Human Rights Watch
Even by this Government’s standards, this year’s report card from Human Rights Watch makes for sobering reading. Their 2023 World Report minced no words: last year “saw the most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades”. Beyond the Government’s obvious breaches of civil liberties, the Report also emphasised the continued role of austerity in the degradation of human rights in the UK and called out the Conservative Government’s abysmal record on poverty and declining living standards.
6. Civicus Monitor
The UK may be starved of international partnership after snubbing the EU, but we’d still caution against joining the democratic backsliding club. But that’s exactly the club in which international civil liberties watchdog Civicus Monitor placed the UK this year, downgrading its state of civic freedoms to “obstructed”. The demotion was chalked up to serious restrictions on freedom of speech and arrests of protestors, as well as threats from the Government to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result, Civicus now classifies the UK in the same category as Hungary, Poland and South Africa.
This one is a combo: it melds the Government’s many failures on climate policy with its recent glee in arresting dissenters and disregard for human rights. Last March, the organisation called the Nationality and Borders Bill (the precursor to the current Anti-Asylum Bill) “a blatant attack on asylum seekers” and warned that climate change will make millions more people refugees in the coming decades. Then, in May, eight Greenpeace activists occupying an Essex port where a tanker carrying Russian oil was set to dock were arrested. The environmental group condemned the hundreds of millions of pounds in Russian oil imports coming into the UK following the Putin regime’s invasion of Ukraine.
8. The International Monetary Fund
With all their cruel, authoritarian policies attracting international condemnation, it’s almost comforting that the UK Government can also get a supranational body to criticise them for plain old incompetence. In September, Liz Truss’s mini budget proved so economically illiterate that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a virtually unprecedented intervention. In a statement, the IMF advised Truss to “re-evaluate” (translated: stop right now, you colossal idiot) her unfunded tax-slashing spree and warned that, in the challenging economic climate, such measures were likely to worsen inequality–even more than 12 years of Conservative austerity already had.
That’s only eight examples–a non-exhaustive list of the follies of an exhausting Government to live under. Charitably, one could imagine that the past year was an extremely misguided attempt from the Government to get the international community to work together–by uniting in condemnation of the UK. Going by Occam’s razor, however, they’re out of ideas, throwing nativist authoritarianism at the wall for short-term electoral gain, and happy to leave the UK iced out of the international fold in the process.