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Leave camp distorts stats on border controls

by Luke Lythgoe | 11.04.2016

The Leave camp has come up with what it thinks is a killer statistic to show our EU membership is a risk to security. Justice minister Dominic Raab points to Home Office statistics showing the UK has denied entry to 67,000 non-EU citizens since 2010 but only 6,000 EU citizens – despite the fact twice as many EU citizens came to our shores.

The Daily Mail took this one step further, claiming “Britain could stop ten times more criminals and terror suspects from entering the country if it leaves the EU” – a useful distortion for the Leave camp of what Raab said.

But even the justice minister’s original claim is a version of “lies, damn lies and statistics.  Almost all the EU citizens will have been refused on security grounds, whereas non-EU citizens will have been refused for many other reasons.

EU citizens, who have the right to work and reside in the UK, can only be refused entry at the borders on grounds of “public policy, public security or public health”. Non-EU citizens must be refused if they have “previously breached the UK’s immigration laws” by overstaying. They can also be refused entry if they can’t prove they have accommodation in the UK, can support themselves, they will be allowed to return home and the like.

The Home Office has previously refused to release information on why non-EU citizens are denied entry, so we don’t know how many of the 67,000 denied entry were stopped on security grounds. Yet Raab insists that EU free movement rules mean “we cannot bar individuals on whom we have sketchy intelligence but reason to believe may be linked to terrorist-related or other serious criminal activity”.

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One problem with this argument is that Raab hasn’t provided any evidence, despite questioning by InFacts, that EU rules are forcing us to let in terrorist suspects. By contrast, the rules (Art 27.2) allow anyone to be stopped if they “represent a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society”. Former immigration minister Damian Green told InFacts: “If you believe somebody at the borders is a security threat, then you can turn them away.”

The other problem is that the Leave camp hasn’t given any explanation of how quitting the EU would help us tighten border security. The most obvious way of doing so would be to require EU citizens to get visas. But this would gum up trade and tourism. Penny Mordaunt, the eurosceptic armed forces minister, sensibly told the BBC  that she didn’t advocate this (watch from 08:30).

The best way of stopping potential jihadis is to have good intelligence. And the governments with the best intelligence on EU citizens will normally be their own. In the wake of terrorist atrocities in Paris and Brussels, the EU has prioritised more information sharing. While Britain could continue swapping intelligence if we quit the EU, we would no longer be one of the drivers of EU counter-terrorism policy. In other words, voting leave would mean less control.

InFacts contacted the Daily Mail who said they were just reporting what the minister said. However, he never explicitly suggested – as the Mail headline did – that “Britain could stop ten times more terror suspects from entering the country if it leaves the EU”.

Edited by Hugo Dixon