Neil Coyle is trying to change a law that could leave lifeboat crew members who save asylum seekers from drowning liable to prosecution.
Coyle, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, was debating the Nationality and Borders Bill, which the government describes as “delivering the most comprehensive reform in decades to fix the broken asylum system.”
A clause in the bill removes the words “for gain” from the group of people who could face prosecution for bringing others into the country illegally – meaning the Royal National Lifeboat Institue (RNLI) could face criminal prosecution for saving an asylum seeker from drowning.
Coyle told the committee debating the bill that this “requires people to watch other people die” – making it “deeply un-British” and un-Christian.
Describing the people of Southwark, he added: “We do not whine about our Christian commitment and moral duty to the people we are supporting. We do not mind our international obligations being upheld. We are proud to be supportive of those in need.
“It is extraordinary that the Bill, and this clause in particular, seeks to make UK citizens bad Samaritans. Without my amendment, the clause requires turning a blind eye. It requires people to watch other people die. It is a sickening extension of the culture war. It is in breach of our international obligations and law.
“The proposed changes risk UK-flagged vessels being pushed into a Kafkaesque Catch-22: assist those in distress and risk criminal liability or do not assist, breach duties of international law and witness the deaths of other people. This risks criminalising voluntary assistance while failing to provide for a humanitarian exemption.
“My amendment presses the Government for such an exemption, along the lines that the Minister outlined and says that he wants. Not least, it would honour our international commitments and protect the RNLI and its amazing work across our country.”
Coyle’s amendment was voted down but Tom Pursglove, a junior minister at the Home Office said in response that the government would insert its own changes to the bill later on.
Nigel Farage accused the RNLI earlier this year of being a taxi service for illegal immigration. In response the RNLI said: “Our charity exists to save lives at sea. Our mission is to save every one. Our lifesavers are compelled to help those in need without judgement of how they came to be in the water. They have done so since the RNLI was founded in 1824 and this will always be our ethos.