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Analysis

UK must prevent deaths in Channel. Brexit isn’t helping

by Luke Lythgoe | 30.12.2018

At least 221 people have attempted the perilous Channel crossing from France to England in small vessels since the start of November. Police liken the risks to trying to “cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot”.

While Brexit didn’t cause the plight of these desperate people, it does make finding a safe solution – and avoiding tragedy – more difficult.

This is not the migration of EU citizens. The men, women and children being pulled out of dinghies by coastguards are asylum seekers and other migrants from countries outside the EU, predominantly Iran and Syria.

Nor does the UK being an EU member somehow help these people enter the country. We are not members of the bloc’s open-border Schengen area. The UK controls its own borders. In fact, leaving the EU will make tackling this humanitarian crisis harder.

One strategy for dissuading people from making the crossing in the first place is to return them quickly to France, says one former top immigration official in the Telegraph. The EU has created a framework under which we could do this, called the Dublin III Regulations.

The Dublin arrangement allows EU countries to return asylum seekers to another EU member state, usually the country of first entry into the bloc, once considerations like family links and the interest of children are taken into account.

It seems the government is exploring this option now. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes told journalists: “We are working with the French to find the most effective route for returns for those who it is appropriate for.”

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The UK’s use of Dublin rules has risen since their latest revision in 2013. Last year other EU countries accepted 2,705 requests from the UK to take back asylum-seekers, up from 1,400 in 2013. You would expect this to continue if Channel crossings persist.

Currently the Dublin system only exists for the 28 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland – all of which are closely tied to the EU’s single market. But under the government’s current Brexit deal the UK would become a “third country”. It’s far from certain we would keep access to Dublin.

Closer cooperation with French authorities is another way to stop people risking their lives in the Channel. But again, this could be harder once the UK is outside the institutions and crime-fighting agencies of the EU.

In the long term, the best way to stop millions of people moving into Europe from Asia and Africa is to make their own countries more economically and politically viable. Few want to leave their homes. This can be achieved through trade, aid, and putting pressure on oppressive regimes and their backers. The UK can best drive this as a coordinated approach from within the EU.

Meanwhile, Brexit uncertainty and paralysis cannot have helped the current crisis in the Channel. Tim Loughton, a Tory MP on the Commons home affairs committee, told the Times that the Home Office’s “resources and attention” had been “stretched in many different directions” by Brexit. As with so many other policy areas, controlling our borders seems to have been sidelined by Brexit overload in Whitehall.

Yet Brexit does seem to have played one role in the recent spike in Channel crossings. Smugglers are telling people they must reach the UK before Brexit when the “borders will be shut properly”, a BBC investigation found. If people hear this “advice” and make a desperate crossing and lose their lives, that would be the most tragic Brexit cost of all.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “UK must prevent deaths in Channel. Brexit isn’t helping”

  • Isn’t the solution to this particular problem less co-operation rather than more? The ‘Le Touquet’ accord moves UK border controls to Calais (and French border controls to Dover). If Macron were to withdraw from this agreement, immigrants to the UK would presumably be able to travel without hinderance to Calais, and argue a case for asylum there.

    True enough, where immigrants’ intention is to pass into the UK without detection, they would still attempt a perilous sea crossing; but I don’t think that’s most of them; and I don’t think anything but an open border would prevent that happening.

    I think, in this case, the French president needs to say “Brexit means Brexit”!

  • Net immigration when TM was Home Secretary ran at about 300K….now its down to 250K….mostly non EU. That’s around 20 thousand a month…..so what’s all the fuss about a few desperate people in their hundreds….brave enough, and by the way, rich enough, to come to the UK……once, but frankly not now, a place which would give succour to those from disgusting regimes.

    JRM, Johnson, Farage, Banks and their ilk seem determined to turn the UK into a country from which many of us would wish to flee.