Speaking at a conference in Rome last weekend, alongside Italian PM Giorgia Melonia, Rishi Sunak noted the importance of tackling illegal immigration. Really Prime Minister? He repeated the usual platitudes: it is not for criminal gangs to decide who comes to Britain; countries must control their borders; illegal immigrants should not be allowed to stay (just as in Britain, Prime Minister?)
The speech was rewarded with polite applause.
The Prime Minister did, however, go on to say something of greater interest.
[If this] requires us to update our laws and lead an international conversation to amend post-war frameworks around asylum then we must do that.
Heaven preserve us from international conversations, especially if they are under the auspices of the United Nations, as this one will very likely be.
But we mustn’t be churlish. I can’t immediately recall other British Prime Ministers ever calling into question the suitability for today’s circumstances of (by implication) the Refugee Convention and the European Convention of Human Rights. So, well done Mr. Sunak. But might we also respectfully suggest that the conversation in the U.K. could begin with a close look at our Human Rights Act 1998, a millstone placed around the U.K.’s neck by none other than Sir Tony Blair?
Indeed, it is the progressive interpretation and faithful implementation of rules underpinned by conventions designed for a very different era and needs which have laid the foundations of the refugee crisis now engulfing Europe and North America.
However, as I have already said, it was all nod and wink, nudge, nudge stuff. The Prime Minister did not refer to specific conventions. Although, his audience understood perfectly well what he meant by the ‘post-war framework’. Still, he didn’t spell out what exactly he was referring to, he was clear that Britain would lead a conversation on it. Given that Downing Street hasn’t released a transcript of his remarks or uploaded a recording of the speech (see here for a sketchy version from Sky News), we are left wondering if he really meant whatever it was that he was referring to. Indeed, in the only public press release from his trip to Rome, there is no mention of the ‘conversation’.
The Prime Minister does not seem to understand that the public are utterly fed up with vague pronouncements. Where’s the beef, Prime Minister? What about some action? Enough of platitudes, already!
In Europe, however, while several states await the eventual outcome of the Rwanda plan to see if it ever comes to fruition, there have been some noteworthy developments.
This week saw French legislators approve Emmanuel Macron’s immigration overhaul, albeit revised in a way that the President did not approve. He has had to accept wide-ranging revision of legislation, driven by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party.
Immigrants will now have to have been resident in France for five years before gaining access to welfare, or 30 months if employed. Additionally, citizenship will no longer be automatically granted to the children of migrants. Family reunification rules have been tightened, while work visas will be issued more sparingly to asylum seekers. You can read more about the legislation here.
Meanwhile, the European Union, after years of negotiation, has agreed a new migration pact for the bloc. The measures include:
- the detention of asylum seekers likely to be rejected at border-adjacent detention centres, where the aim is to fast-track asylum claims by processing them within three months and swiftly removing those whose applications are rejected
- the requirement of asylum seekers, including children as young as six years-old, to provide biometric data
- the re-direction of funds from Mediterranean rescue missions towards tougher border security and surveillance.
Additionally, the EU agreed a €150 million deal with Tunisia to prevent migrant flows through the North African state.
While neither the French nor European measures are likely to reduce migration flows, they are moves in the right direction. You can read more about the EU changes here.
The French legislation and EU measures are reasonable and sensible. EU Member States such as Austria, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Hungary, The Netherlands and perhaps Sweden may even be prepared to go further. What is baffling, however, is that while France is ready to countenance tougher measures to deal with illegal immigration and bogus asylum seekers, it is not willing to prevent migrants from setting off illegally from its shores or to take back those who succeed en route to the U.K. Doing so might at least reduce the numbers entering France with the intention of heading for the Pas-de-Calais.