Motion to Agree

Part of UK Opt-in to the Proposed Council Decision on the Relocation of Migrants within the EU (EUC Report) – in the House of Lords at 3:51 pm on 22nd July 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Chair, EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee 3:51 pm, 22nd July 2015

Not exclusively. The point is that the definition of a migrant is rather fluid, because people who are migrants may become asylum seekers or refugees.

As I said, the UK has taken none—not even one. This week’s political agreement appears to have sidelined further involvement by the Commission, so the status of the Commission’s proposal is uncertain. It is not clear whether it will be withdrawn or amended. Indeed, the information published by the Council about Monday’s meeting has muddied the waters, leaving it unclear on what legal basis the Council’s decisions are being taken forward. That is why the Motion before the House is conditional on the Commission amending or replacing its proposal in such a way as to reflect the conclusions of the European Council.

This is a convoluted story; it was not the way to handle an issue of such gravity and importance. We need to remind ourselves of the underlying reality of this crisis. First, the proposed scheme would not relocate any migrants who have entered Italy or Greece. Only those who are from countries where over 75% of emigrants are successful in claiming asylum status are eligible. At the moment, only three countries meet this condition: they are the conflict-ridden states of Iraq, Eritrea and Syria. Those who would be helped by the scheme are overwhelmingly refugees and not economic migrants.

Secondly, the scheme has repeatedly been conflated with the concurrent proposal to resettle 20,000 refugees in the EU directly from north Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and other priority areas. The UK has agreed, in accordance with long-standing international obligations, to take in just more than 2,000 refugees under the resettlement scheme—but this has no bearing on the relocation scheme, which applies only to migrants who are already in the EU.

Why is the UK refusing to help? The Government argue that the relocation scheme, which is helping those migrants who have already reached the EU, will act as a pull factor and encourage more people to risk their lives. This claim is wholly unsubstantiated, and the Minister, James Brokenshire, was unable to offer any evidence to support his claims when he appeared before the committee. These refugees are fleeing for their lives. The notion that the relocation scheme will encourage more to flee is therefore totally unconvincing.

The Government also cite their wider objectives, such as stopping migration across the Mediterranean and reducing the flow of migrants in countries of origin. These are of course laudable medium and long-term objectives—my sub-committee has just launched an inquiry into the EU’s agenda on migration, which will address these issues in more detail—but they have no bearing on this proposal, which has a specific, limited goal to deal with the current humanitarian crisis.

If the EU fails to relocate refugees, they will be forced to remain in countries which have increasingly poor reception conditions and which, particularly in the case of Greece, are facing economic crises that seriously reduce their capacity to accept additional migration. This is a humanitarian crisis which requires genuinely collective EU action. Moreover, this scheme is about the fundamental principle of solidarity and burden-sharing between member states. As an EU member state, we have a duty to show solidarity and help deal with the crisis. The political and international implications of failing to opt in would also be grave. This humanitarian crisis is happening within the EU’s own borders, and the EU’s failure to deal with it adequately is undermining its international credibility. Effective action is needed and this cannot happen unless all member states, including the UK, take their share of the burden.

After the June Council, the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government do not wish to take part in the relocation scheme. However, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum leaves open the possibility that the UK may help if a voluntary scheme is introduced. This now appears to have happened at this week’s Justice and Home Affairs Council. Moreover, the distribution of relocated migrants is well below the target of 40,000, so it would seem that there is still scope for the UK to participate in this scheme. The precise number of migrants that the UK would take would of course be up to the Government.

Before I finish, I have three questions for the Minister, of which I have given his office advance notice. First, further to the Council’s resolution on 20 July, will there be EU legislation to establish the relocation scheme? Secondly, what form will such legislation take and on what legal basis will it be adopted? Thirdly, what relationship will this legislation have to the Commission’s original proposals? These are technical questions but they are important.

Technicalities aside, the issue we are discussing today is fundamentally a question of the UK’s responsibility as a member of the EU. We believe that duties of solidarity with our allies, and compassion for those who have fled civil war, mean that the UK must opt in. Moreover, we believe that it is in the UK’s interest to take part in the proposed scheme. Now, above all, we should show we are fully engaged in supporting our partners. I urge the Government to reconsider their position and opt in. I beg to move.