Common European Asylum System

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 29th November 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:10 pm, 29th November 2007

I beg to move, To leave out from "seekers" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

'but recognises that asylum policy, as an essential component in the control of the UK's borders, should remain under the control of the British Government.'.

I listened to the Minister's speech with interest, particularly the first few minutes, when she was dealing with more general immigration policy rather than the document before the House. As gently as possible, I say to her that if she really believes that the current system of immigration control we have in this country amounts to "borders plus", she is the last person left living on fantasy island.

I start by setting out the principles by which we should operate in deciding what is proper with regard to using our membership of the European Union as a way of improving our asylum policy. I shall then move on to some of the problems that we have with the Government's approach and the details of the document before us.

The basis for our asylum policy should be that we do need proper co-operation—indeed, better co-operation—among the member states of the EU because a prosperous and free Europe is inevitably an attractive destination for genuine refugees, whom we all welcome, but also for those who use the asylum system that has been built up since the second world war as a disguise for economic migration or occasionally something worse, such as crime or terrorism.

We all agree that asylum shopping is harmful and that sharing the burden of support for genuine refugees in Europe is sensible. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that sharing some of the burden in combating illegal immigration is sensible, and I suspect that the Minister would agree. Many of us remember last year's crisis, when thousands of west Africans took a dangerous sea voyage to the Canary Islands to get inside the EU. Those poor, wretched people had, in many cases, paid their life savings to people traffickers and many died on the journey. Spain wanted help from us and her other European partners and it was sensible to give it because, to some extent, the borders of the Canary Islands are Britain's borders as well.

We are, therefore, absolutely convinced of the need for intelligent co-operation, and we can accept the principle that anyone arriving at the border of a member state of the EU claiming asylum should be treated in roughly the same way, under the same set of rules. However, it is not sensible to say that the only way we can achieve that is by handing over powers of rule making to the Commission, which is what the document suggests. It is also what the Government are doing, even though anyone who had not followed what they had been doing, but merely went on what the Minister said they had done, would think they were doing something different.

That is the difference between us and the Government on this issue, which is the point of our amendment. Since the treaty of Amsterdam, the EU has had the competence to legislate in this field, but with a British opt-out, or a possibility to opt in—whichever way one wishes to describe it. However, in practice the Government have not chosen to exercise the opt-out on asylum matters, so it has been pointless. The Minister explained that the Government had taken the opportunity to opt out in some immigration matters, in order to preserve the integrity of our borders, as she put it, and they have. But on asylum matters, the Government have always opted in, and I was quite surprised that the Minister did not take the opportunity to explain why they had taken such a radically different approach in those two fields.