Yesterday, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper took the momentous step of committing the Labour Party to ending the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration systems.
The announcement follows Nick Clegg’s commitment to a time limit on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Earlier in the month the first cross-party parliamentary inquiry into detention called for a time limit of 28 days, concluding that they current system is ‘expensive, ineffective and unjust.’
Labour has previously said that it will end the detention of pregnant women and hold an independent inquiry into Yarl’s Wood, but this statement amounts to a dramatic expansion of their commitment to detention reform.
Yvette Cooper said that indefinite detention ‘can be deeply scarring.’ She added that ‘it is extremely expensive for taxpayers. No other western nation does it. We don’t need to either.’
However, the announcement stops short of a commitment to end indefinite detention, as ex-offenders would be excluded.
The Government is still resisting the growing momentum behind calls to end indefinite detention, but today announced that it is closing Haslar detention centre, near Portsmouth. With the cancelled expansion of Campsfield, this amounts to a remarkable reversal of policy. A mere month ago, the Home Office position was that the detention estate needed to expand to 5000 places.
This amounts to an unprecedented crisis of confidence in the detention system amongst the political class. So close to an election, it is remarkable that the main parties are under such pressure to address the failings of the detention system. The next few weeks will be crucial in deciding whether the UK finally joins every other comparable country in ending indefinite detention, for everyone.