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After Politics.co.uk submitted Freedom of Information requests, the Home Office has confirmed that it received hundreds of tip offs from members of parliament between 2014 and 2016.
This news raises questions about the very real possibility of MPs being contacted by concerned constituents seeking support regarding their right to remain in the UK, but choosing to ignore their worries and instead passing on their details to the Home Office.
It is not clear how many of these referrals led to action being taken, such as deportation.
The Green Party is calling on MPs involved to disclose how they received the information that they then passed on to immigration enforcement. Co-leader Jonathan Bartley said:
This appears to be a fundamental betrayal of trust and duty of care if elected representatives have been tipping off the Home Office about people they suspect to be undocumented migrants.
This is a fundamental betrayal of trust. MPs shouldn't be snitching on members of their community. https://t.co/Gb3vXqGItF
— Jonathan Bartley (@jon_bartley) September 1, 2017
It is undeniable that behaviour like this will damage trust in MPs among migrants, who could struggle to get help elsewhere due to cuts to legal aid budgets. This view is supported by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Chai Patel, their legal and policy director, said:
It is extremely concerning that Members of Parliament appear to be sharing information with the Home Office in these circumstances.
He went on to say:
All constituents have a right to petition their Member of Parliament and should have confidence that they will not betray their interests. With massive cuts to legal aid, many migrants have nowhere else to turn to find someone who can advise them and represent their interests.
The Home Office insist that MPs can use the online form to report an immigration crime as freely as any other member of the public. They claim that they would only be identified as an MP if they declared themselves on the online form, which allows those reporting to remain anonymous.
The fact that these 480+ reports were not anonymous raises some deeply troubling questions. How many MPs are reporting their constituents anonymously? How many local councillors are doing the same thing?
Though it is true that MPs are members of the public, the average person is not privy to the kind of information that an elected representative would receive in their correspondence with constituents. Nor would the vast majority of people be in such a position of trust and authority as a member of parliament.
Migrants are often deeply vulnerable to exploitation, and MPs can only help bring an end to this injustice if there is a level of trust between them and their constituents. If an exploited worker, unable to afford any kind of legal challenge, believes that there is a good chance their MP will sell them out as soon as they turn to them for help, why would they bother?
Fizza Qureshi, director of the Migrants’ Rights Network, said:
If parliamentarians are reporting their constituents, it demonstrates how deep the ‘hostile environment’ is seeping into our society.
How right she is. It is difficult to imagine how it must feel to be so utterly betrayed by someone who has been elected to represent your interests.
We can only hope that the new MPs elected in June will have more compassion than many of their veteran colleagues, and that all parties will support the calls for those who reported their own constituents to explain themselves and disclose exactly where they received the information that they passed on to immigration enforcement.
[Josh Booth is a current elected Labour Parish Councillor for Poulton With Fearnhead in Warrington]
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