Two Conservative peers condemn Board over ‘attack’ on government’s migration bill

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Two Conservative peers condemn Board over ‘attack’ on government’s migration bill

Lord Polak and Lord Leigh have both issued statements in response to the Board of Deputies announcement that it had 'significant concerns' over Rishi Sunak's proposals

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl speaking at CFI's event at the Conservative Party Conference. (Credit: Board of Deputies)
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl speaking at CFI's event at the Conservative Party Conference. (Credit: Board of Deputies)

Two Conservative peers have openly attacked the Board of Deputies decision to question the legality of the government’s controversial illegal migration bill.

Lord Stuart Polak wrote that “it is outrageous that the Board of Deputies appears to have been hijacked as a vehicle to push a left leaning agenda, using the platform as a megaphone to berate the British government.”

While Lord Howard Leigh suggested that a statement issued by the Board on Wednesday – raising “significant concerns” that the proposed legislation could breach refugee and human rights laws – was “outside the scope” of the communal organisation.

But allies of Board president Marie van der Zyl defended the decision to issue the statement, suggesting the Board was reflecting genuine concern, including expert legal advice, from within the community.

They also pointed to the Board president’s recent backing for the UK embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem, a controversial issue openly called for by Lord Polak’s Conservative Friends of Israel group.

But writing for the Jewish Chronicle, Polak, a former education director at the Board, wrote he had “observed a concerning trend that has become increasingly common, where the ideology of the Board appears to be influenced by left-leaning opinions.

“This bias is evident in the Board’s public positions, and it is in clear violation of the organisation’s platform.”

Polak announced he “strongly supports” Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman’s illegal migration bill adding it is “in bad taste to invoke the historically traumatic migrant experience of the Jewish people as a means to press gang the whole community and its institutions into this partisan campaign.”

But it is understood that the Board president is strongly moved by the plight of those desperately seeking asylum in this country, and is planning to visit a camp in Calais herself in the near future to hear first hand accounts of those seeking refuge here.

Allies claim she has received strong support from across many sections of the community for speaking out on the issue from a Jewish perspective.

Lord Polak speaking in the House of Lords

Barrister Simon Myerson KC  backed the Board over their statement tweeting it had “expressed a legal concern that the bill breached our legal obligations.”

He described Polak’s attack on the Board as “ill-judged.”

But in further criticism, Lord Leigh tweeted that in his opinion the Board was “ill advised” to issue a statement on the bill.

“This is outside their scope and they should resist the urge to think they have to comment,” the Tory peer added.

In response to the government’s announcement of the bill, which is aimed at stopping the increasing numbers of small boats bring asylum seekers into the country, the UN Refugee Agency said it was “profoundly concerned” at the attempt to “deny access to the UK asylum system to those who arrive irregularly.”

Left to right: Steven Lewis, Stephen Zimmerman, Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP, Lord Howard Leigh, Mark Laurence

They added that if the legislation was passed it would “amount to an asylum ban, extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the UK for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be.”

On Wednesday ITV presenter Robert Peston raised the Board’s concerns over the bill with Suella Braverman.

The Home Secretary insisted the measures contained in the bill “comply with the Refugee Convention” and with “our international obligations.”



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