Illegal Migration: International Co-operation

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons at on 30 April 2024.

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Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley

What diplomatic steps he is taking to strengthen international co-operation on tackling illegal migration.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton

What diplomatic steps he is taking to strengthen international co-operation on tackling illegal migration.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

What diplomatic steps he is taking to strengthen international co-operation on tackling illegal migration.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley

Given the success of the agreement with Albania, which has considerably reduced the number of illegal immigrants crossing by small boats, does the Minister believe that more of these agreements are necessary, alongside our Rwanda policy?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. He will have seen that on 17 April we signed an agreement with Vietnam to tackle irregular migration and reduce channel crossing casualties. The numbers of Vietnamese people coming across the channel has been one of the fastest rising groups in recent months.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton

Recently, the Irish Tánaiste stated that he believed the increase in irregular migration to the Republic of Ireland was a direct result of the deterrent effect of our Rwanda policy. The Irish Government have since made moves to try to remove those illegal migrants back to the UK. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with EU counterparts and Home Office colleagues about ensuring there is no returns policy with the EU unless a reciprocal agreement is made?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point: what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. The movement of asylum seekers from the UK to the southern Irish Republic would suggest that the Rwanda agreement is already having the deterrent effect we are seeking.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I have been saying for some time in this place, and many other places, that a combined effort between French and English forces would be very useful on the ground in France to stop the boats from even getting to the beaches in the first place. We have the technology and we can destroy the boats; I do not see why we do not do that. My right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh and I wish to visit Calais to meet the mayor to discuss that idea. Will my right hon. Friend join us?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

That is an unbelievably tempting invitation from my hon. Friend. Recently, we have seen a 120% increase in French troops on the ground and a 36% reduction in the number of migrants coming across compared with last year, so French troops on the ground are delivering what is required, at least in part.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Irish Republic’s Government and their Justice Minister indicated that they believe that up to 80% or more of those who are illegally in the Republic of Ireland are coming across the land border, but that appears to have been a purely subjective figure. Has the Minister been able to establish the veracity, or otherwise, of such an exceptionally high figure, which the Justice Minister has claimed to be the case?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We have not because, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, that is a southern Irish Government responsibility. No doubt the southern Irish Government will be pressed on this matter and will deliver an answer in due course.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

On one hand, the Minister says he wants to improve international co-operation on tackling illegal migration, but on the other hand he says the Government are not willing to come to an agreement with the Government of Ireland or any other European countries on returns of asylum seekers.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I did not say anything of the sort, Mr Speaker. We are working together in numerous international fora, including the Global Refugee Forum, the G7, the UN General Assembly and the European Political Community summit, to tackle this matter upstream. Working upstream and working with others is critical to resolving this deeply disturbing problem.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

The only way to stop boats at sea and illegal migration is through structured co-operation with our neighbours and internationally. I welcome the signing on 23 February of the agreement between the UK and EU’s Frontex border protection service, but is it properly funded and what mechanisms are in place to review that funding as it evolves? Surely the Minister must agree with me that the best way to tackle illegal migration is to fund safe and legal routes properly. What progress is he making on a comprehensive deal to that end with our EU friends, including Ireland?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We need to tackle this issue, as I think the hon. Gentleman is implying, on a series of different fronts. We are working upstream, as the deal with Vietnam demonstrates. Our Prime Minister has substantially repaired the relationship with France. The Calais Group has met the UK-France customs partnership. We work closely with Frontex. There are far more officials now in Britain dealing with these cases. As the Prime Minister has made clear, once this matter has been resolved, he is going to look at bringing in safe and legal routes from elsewhere.