Yesterday’s Nationality and Borders Bill gives legislative expression to a set of government policies branded “New Plan for Immigration”. A consultation on the New Plan for Immigration ran from 24 March to 6 May 2021. There was a huge response: the House of Commons Library has catalogued 42 organisational submissions, from the Quakers to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, and that is just the ones made public.
What has become of all that feedback? No idea. The Home Office went ahead and published the Bill yesterday without publishing its response to the consultation exercise. For all we know, all that feedback went straight into the figurative wastepaper basket.
The department does assure us that it has “carefully considered” the submissions and will formally respond “in due course”. But cracking on with the Bill without first explaining how (if at all) the draft was adjusted in light of feedback rather suggests a Potemkin consultation.
The process had already attracted controversy. Asylum seekers represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors began legal action last month arguing that they were unable to meaningfully participate (among other reasons, because the consultation did not cater for non-English speakers and only ran for six weeks). The government is apparently arguing that the courts cannot consider a challenge to a consultation process designed to inform primary legislation, as that would trespass on parliamentary privilege. If this is right, it would have obvious implications for future challenges to flawed consultations — so the case has, according to Duncan Lewis, assumed some constitutional significance.