Suella Braverman should consider her position for putting forward “cruel and heartless” immigration policies that discriminate against war refugees of colour, a former Home Office adviser has said.
Nimco Ali, a one-time Conservative campaigner who in December left her job as an adviser on violence against women, said the home secretary was “the wrong person not just for the Conservative party but for the country”.
A child refugee from Somaliland, Ali said the government’s failure to widen routes open to Ukrainians to other refugees appeared to be “racist” and “painful”.
Her words came as the government faced opposition from MPs across the House of Commons as it attempted to push the illegal migration bill through parliament on Monday. After a bad-tempered four-hour debate, a Labour amendment to block the bill was defeated by 312 votes to 249 and it will now progress to its second reading.
In a damning intervention during the debate, Theresa May criticised Braverman’s plan, warning that “anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong”.
The bill says that refugees who arrive in the UK without prior permission will be detained for 28 days and that asylum claims will be deemed “inadmissible” whatever the individual’s circumstances.
They will be removed either to their own country or a “safe third country”, such as Rwanda, if that is not possible.
Ali, who came to the UK 32 years ago with her family, said they would have been criminalised if they had arrived under the planned legislation.
“The bill that Suella Braverman has put forward means that anyone like me who escapes from war and comes to the UK to claim asylum is a criminal.
“The focus from Suella is on criminalising the victims, not the perpetrators of trafficking. Women who are trafficked should be seen as victims, but under this law, people who are trafficked would be criminalised,” she said.
Ali said that the plans to send people to Rwanda posed difficult questions for her while she was a Home Office adviser, but “at least there was due process”.
“As a former refugee of colour, if we can provide generous help to Ukrainians escaping war then I think we need to look at ensuring that we also provide routes to anyone escaping conflicts,” she said.
“If we can find room for a white child but not a black child, who are coming here in similar circumstances, it is racist. It is really painful if we believe that people can seek refuge if they come from Europe but not elsewhere.
“If we can provide safe and legal routes for Ukrainians, we should do it for other people as well,” she said.
Ali, who campaigned for the Conservative party in 2019, said Sunak would not win the next election with Braverman as his home secretary.
“He is in danger of losing younger people, floating voters and undecided millennials.
“Suella Braverman wants the government to look tough but it will instead make us look cruel and heartless which I don’t think the PM is.
“I have a problem with her language. I believe that blaming lefty lawyers when they are challenging the law is dangerous. When she spoke about her dream of seeing a plane take off to Rwanda, it lacked compassion and understanding.”
May, the former prime minister who introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 when home secretary, said the Home Office “knows genuine victims of modern slavery would be denied support” under the bill. “As it currently stands, we are shutting the door to victims who are being trafficked into [modern] slavery [in] the UK,” she said.
May warned that the bill would not stop illegal migration. “Whenever you close a route for migrants … the migrants and the people smugglers find another way.
“Anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong,” she said.
A number of Conservative backbenchers have indicated that they would vote against the bill as it stands, including the chair of the equalities committee, Caroline Nokes, the former justice secretary, Robert Buckland, and the former minister Stephen Hammond.
The Conservative MP Chris Skidmore has said he would not vote for the Illegal Migration bill when it went to the Commons for its second reading later on Monday.
The backbencher, who is standing down at the next general election, tweeted: “I am not prepared to break international law or the human rights conventions that the UK has had a proud history of playing a leading role in establishing.
“I will not be voting for the bill tonight.”
Addressing the Commons, Braverman said she had been subjected to “grotesque slurs” for speaking the truth about the impact of unlimited and illegal migration.
“I will not be hectored by out-of-touch lefties, or anyone for that matter. I won’t be patronised on what appropriate views for someone of my background can hold. I will not back down when faced with spurious accusations of bigotry,” she said.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the bill was “a con which will make the situation in the Channel worse” while the government fails to reduce the backlog of asylum claims.
“Children, unaccompanied teenagers, pregnant women, torture victims, trafficking victims, Afghan interpreters or young Hongkongers – who we promised to help – would be locked up [under this bill] because they arrived without the right papers,” she said.
A Home Office source said: “The home secretary is toughening up laws introduced while Nimco was an adviser to the Home Office, which included ensuring illegal entry to the UK was deemed a criminal act. There will be more safe and legal routes, in addition to the ones already in place, and we will still provide refuge for those genuinely in need of sanctuary.”