UK can opt out of EU asylum “power grab”

by Luke Lythgoe | 07.03.2016

The Daily Express has accused Brussels of wanting to “take control of Britain’s asylum system” in a bid to end the migration crisis. The newspaper also warned the EU’s plans could open up the UK to “millions more migrants”. This is most unlikely since Britain has an opt out from European asylum policies and there’s no reason why the government should opt into this one.

The Express was reacting to a Financial Times article which revealed draft proposals to overhaul and centralise the European asylum system. The European Commission will propose turning the European Asylum Support Office, which currently offers advice, into an agency with responsibility over asylum cases across the continent.

The Commission will present two options, according to the FT. “The first is to fundamentally reshape the bloc’s system and would result in all asylum seekers being shared out across the EU on a quota basis, regardless of where they first arrived. The other would keep the status quo — but with asylum seekers shared out on a quota basis if a country is overwhelmed by a sudden influx.”

David Cameron, speaking at an EU summit with Turkey, correctly insisted the UK has an “absolutely rock-solid opt out” in justice and home affairs. The Express conceded the UK would “theoretically” have an opt-out clause, but went on to suggest if we vote to remain in the EU on 23 June EU officials “may likely feel empowered to bully Britain into accepting the terms of any new asylum deal”.

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    There is nothing theoretical about the UK’s opt-out. In 2014 Britain opted out of all EU justice and home affairs laws introduced prior to the Lisbon Treaty. It then selectively opted back into 35, including Europol and the European Arrest Warrant, which it considered in its interests.

    The Express also says the Commission proposal would involve scrapping “the ‘Dublin regulation’ asylum policy, by which migrants are required to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter”. Even if this happens, and the UK is fighting a rearguard action to keep the rule, the number of migrants who would have to stay in Britain would be fairly limited.

    The UK has sent 12,000 people back to other EU countries since 2003 – an average of under 1,000 per year. Nothing like the millions that The Express is scaremongering about. And, of course, if we quit the EU, we are most unlikely to benefit from the Dublin regulation anyway.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon