» Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Immigration/1951 Convention

Asked about the merits of upholding the 1951 UN convention on asylum and immigration, the PMOS set out the context for our attitude towards asylum in Europe. The 1951 convention had come into force in EU law last year. It was one of the overall interlocking directives on asylum – the "pull factor". The priority for the United Kingdom was to stop the process of "asylum shopping". To do that we had to reduce the attraction for asylum to come to the UK over and above other European countries. That could only be achieved through a combination of factors. For instance getting places like Sangatte closed down could only have been done with the cooperation with the French Government. Another factor was improving security and detection at ports in France, partially through the use of equipment and partially from having immigration officials in French ports. Another key factor was to establish new rules in which asylum seekers would be processed in the first EU country in which they landed. In other words stop the ability of asylum seekers to go through other parts of Europe and arrive in this country to be processed here. That could only be done through agreement with other EU countries. It was now easier to regulate asylum applications using the EU database to check people arriving this country who had gone through the system. That was what the directives had given us. Those directives were interlocking. If we were to opt out of one then the whole process would cease and the ability to prevent asylum shopping, which we had achieved in the last year, would also go. That was why it was so important that we had these EU agreements. Put to him that immigration was supposed to be a "red-line" issue, the PMOS said that we had retained the ability to say no to anything that we did not agree with. The actual fact was that cooperation on asylum has worked precisely to our advantage, rather than to our disadvantage because it had reduced the "pull factor" and it has stopped the ability of asylum seekers to all arrive at our doorstep. If we got to a situation in which every country in the EU was effectively only looking after its own interests, then we would go back to the situation where all cooperation stopped.

Put to him that the Government couldn’t say no to the 1951 convention even though it was unhappy with it, the PMOS said that the 1951 was linked to the ECHR. You could not just talk about the 1951 convention without examining the precise implications of walking away from an EU directive. The cooperation we had asked for and gotten from our EU partners would in the Government’s judgment end if the UK walked away from an EU directive. Asked what efforts the British Government had made to change the 1951 convention given that the Prime Minister himself had said it was anachronistic, the PMOS said that the practical reality was that the 1951 directive was linked to the ECHR. Asked why it couldn’t be changed, the PMOS said that perhaps that was possible in the long term but in terms of where we were at the moment, the reality was that it was impractical. Asked if it was fair to say in that case that the UK Government was making no efforts to change the convention, the PMOS repeated that the reality was that it was legally linked to the ECHR. You could not unilaterally change the ECHR or unilaterally walk away from EU directives without losing the cooperation we had at present. This issue had to be looked at in terms of the practical implications. Those implications were that at present we were in a much better position to prevent asylum shopping then we were in the past. This was precisely because of the EU directives.

Asked about plans put forward by the Conservative party based on the Australian model for asylum and immigration control, the PMOS said that he would not get involved in commenting on Conservative plans. In terms of the Government’s position in Europe the reality was that we needed the cooperation of our European partners to help deliver a level playing field throughout Europe. A level playing field in which each country dealt with the asylum issue in cooperation with its EU partners. That cooperation, in the Government’s view, worked to the advantage of the UK, not to its disadvantage. Put to him that that cooperation inhibited the implementation of the polices adopted by Australia such as the quota system, the PMOS said that in terms of the practical interests of this country, was it to stop asylum shopping? That was the question the Government asked. In terms of migration was it in the interest of this country that it had the skilled workers to assist the economy? Some people might describe those workers as "slave labour" but that was not what the CBI described them as. That was not what the employers described them as and that was not what the migrant workers who, for instance, were on television last night described them as. Asked if the Government didn’t consider cockle pickers to be slave labour, or illegal agricultural workers, the PMOS said that these measures were now in place precisely to encourage the transition to legal working, with all the safeguards that entailed. For instance the Government had introduced a tough work permit scheme. The Government admitted that there were historical problems and admitted that there was more to do. It was a generalisation to far to refer to all foreign workers as slave labour. Put to him that there was a large problem of slave labour brought into the UK by organised crime, the PMOS said that the Government was taking action.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. What on earth is \x93asylum shopping\x94? Are the Government seriously trying to tell us that people decide to apply for asylum like we would pop into Thomas Cook to browse the brochures? Why on earth do they think that people who live in countries where they have difficulty in even getting clean water for their children would have no difficulty in getting information about the British asylum system? Or countries where foreign political documents are banned under pain of death would still have easy access to a comprehensive and up to date guide to the legal and welfare benefits systems of Western Europe!

    The only way that our immigration policy would have any effect on asylum numbers is if we went to either extreme of letting everyone in or letting no-one in. Anything in-between will have little or no effect on the number of asylum applications.

    There are clear historical and social reasons why people want to come to Britain. We used to have a large empire so a large number of countries have some historical connection with the UK. In most cases oppressive regimes are likely to hate Britain and people may take the view that my enemy\x92s enemy is my friend and so come here. One of the legacies of empire is also that English is a widely spoken second (or first) language \x96 so if you\x92re going to pick a country to flee to then you might as well pick one where you speak the language. On a final social point, the British have always marketed the idea of British fair play (despite piles of evidence to the contrary) so can we really blame people for thinking that if they come to Britain they will be treated fairly?

    If you look at the top countries of origin for asylum seekers to this country in recent years then I think it says more about our foreign policies than our domestic ones. Most of the countries are either: a former colony; countries we\x92ve recently bombed; countries we\x92ve threatened to bomb; or, most worryingly, countries ruled by dictatorships that we want to sell weapons to.

    Immigration policy will never move away from neo-racism and xenophobia until we start taking an honest look at why people claim asylum here in the first place.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 25 Jan 2005 on 9:16 pm | Link
  2. Zimbabwe for example? We can’t put back the clock on our former Colonies, but we could come up with a policy to assist the citizens of that dismal state instead of the mealy mouthed incoherancies of Bliar and his man of Straw.

    Comment by Colonel Mad — 25 Jan 2005 on 10:54 pm | Link
  3. "mealy mouthed incoherancies of Bliar and his man of Straw"

    Don’t be daft – this is the GOVERNMENT you’re talking about. You should know by now that the government doesn’t exist to solve problems of policy or whatever; they are there purely to feather their own nests. All government policy is simply a result of that; any benefits to the general population are purely incidental.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 26 Jan 2005 on 5:25 pm | Link

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