Defeating the migration bill is a crucial battle for the UK

Defeating the Tories' migration bill is a crucial battle for UK politics
6 min read

Richard Sudan

16 March, 2023
The Home Office's new policy targeting small boats will create a hierarchy of races when it comes to asylum seekers. The damage this will do to UK politics is severe, but Labour has failed to put up any meaningful opposition, writes Richard Sudan.
Hundreds of people protest in Parliament square against the Migration Bill going through Parliament on 13 March 2023 in London, England. [Getty]

You know things have gotten bad when a football pundit lands in hot water for doing the job of the Labour front benches by calling out the government’s migration bill, and when the architect of the ‘hostile environment’ Theresa May offers a nuanced voice of reason, calling out the inhumanity of it all.

It sounds ridiculous, but absurdly that’s where we’re at. The Conservative government is intent on pushing an unworkable, inhumane and arguably illegal migration policy, targeting people on tiny boats, almost all of whom should be eligible for asylum.

Such political theatrics are to be expected from the current government. But the shoddy and weak response from Labour is something else.

Not only is the Labour leadership failing to present any real ‘opposition’ to Tory migration plans, on the contrary, one of Starmer’s recent criticisms was not that home office migration policy is inhumane but that it had failed to meet deportation targets as per the Rwanda scheme

Starmer should be tearing Tory proposals to further erode human rights to shreds. The rise in nationalism, however, has created a political race to the bottom, and the Labour leadership are reluctant to say anything remotely positive about migration for fear of being punished at the ballot box.

The reality is that there has not been so much as a promise from Labour to reverse the damage being done by the Tories.

Starmer was more passionate about Lineker being reinstated to the BBC after he criticised the new migration bill than he was about the very cause that created the furore in the first place. All Lineker did was liken the racist language used in current rhetoric on migrants and refugees to that of the Nazi regime.

Sadly, the reality is that today’s Labour is closer to emulating the rhetoric of the Tories than opposing it. Recently, Starmer repeated in parliament the point that migrants waiting to claim asylum are housed in hotels paid for by the taxpayer - a staple right-wing talking point.

This would be dangerous anti-migrant fallacy to evoke at any time, but to do so following the recent scenes outside of Liverpool, which saw a large and hostile crowd amass outside a migrant housing centre, is unconscionable and wholly irresponsible.

But the real danger presented by the government’s new migration policy is how it will normalise and encourage discrimination based on the colour of an asylum seeker’s skin.

While safe routes to the UK for asylum seekers have been closed by the government, white refugees from Ukraine have been welcomed with open arms, with the EU cutting layers of red tape to enable them to access healthcare and the job market.

In fact, at the same moment the government passed its first reading of the recent migration bill seeking to stop non-white refugees from entering Britain, Keir Starmer made a surprise visit to Kyiv to underscore his commitment to supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.


There is a hierarchy of race when it comes to which refugees we accept and which refugees we reject, and whiteness is apparently what determines it.

Were it scores of white refugees making their way across the English Channel there would be no planned bill to stop the boats. In all likelihood, there would probably be swift legislation passed to assist in their rescue and safe passage to the UK.

But of course, the unspoken elephant in the room is ultimately not that we have too many refugees, or even that it costs too much to house them. The issue is that people view black and brown refugees as ‘invaders’ and their presence will never be welcome in this country.

The UK already takes in fewer refugees than most other countries. The whole migration bill and the controversy around it has nothing to do with numbers, cost, or tackling criminal gangs.

It’s about the government playing racial politics with ordinary people to stir emotions and win local votes ahead of the next general election, at a time when people cannot heat their homes and once basic food items are now considered a luxury for many.

The government know that the migration bill has every chance of failing and not standing up in the courts. But fighting against it is about more than legislation. It’s about a continual process of challenging and defeating the arguments that lead to such proposals.

The bill may yet be halted.  But without the correct arguments being made, another concerning policy will inevitably replace it. 

This Tory government needs to go, and we need something capable and progressive ready to take its place. Keir Starmer and the current Labour leadership crop are not fit or up for the task.

As the general election in 2024 nears, our elected leaders need to be reminded at every juncture that votes come with a price. They need to understand the political cost and consequence of failing to put up a worthy opposition to the government’s position on migration that millions of decent people share.

At home there is much work to do. Without reversing the dangerous trajectory of UK migration policy, the UK itself will be even more damaged in terms of its reputation and international standing.

Right now, to the rest of the world, it simply looks like Britain has no issue creating refugees but is unwilling to accept them. This state of affairs cannot continue, and at some point this dangerous status quo has to break.

Racism is a toxic Kool Aid and its tearing politics apart, leaving the most vulnerable at the mercy of the worst elements of our society.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Follow him on Twitter: @richardsudan

Have questions or comments? Email us at:

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.