» Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Asked to clarify the Prime Minister’s thinking on deporting people to unsafe countries, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said it was important to distinguish between two things: on the one hand if you had a specific threat against an individual that was one thing but if there was an overall perception of a country that was another thing. It was important to distinguish between the two. The PMOS said the key, as he had said in his briefings on this subject two weeks ago, was to switch the presumption. The situation we had reached in this country over the years was one where ad hoc reasons and decisions had been taken about why people should not be deported and these had grown into a body of opinion. For example the current situation at the moment was that you had to serve twelve months in prison before you could be deported. The Prime Minster’s view was that this should change. Therefore the presumption should be that foreign nationals should be deported unless there was a good reason why not to deport them. Asked how the distinction between an unstable regime and a specific threat to an individual could be drawn, the PMOS said that you did it on a case-by-case basis. For instance, without going into specific ongoing cases, we were now deporting people to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Asked how identity cards would help tackle illegal immigration, the PMOS explained that they allowed you to track people much more carefully, which was why other countries were exploring this, such as Ireland. Put that illegal immigrants often lied being illegal immigrants so how did you track that, the PMOS said that if you had iris and fingerprint identification it was much more difficult to be successful with your lies. Asked what you could not do without an ID card if you had snuck into the country, the PMOS said that it depended on you first of being able to sneak into the country. Your chances of doing so were much reduced with biometric passports and the chances of tracking you were proportionally increased with this technology. Asked how Britain having ID cards prevented a Somalian, for example, from coming here, the PMOS said that we were taking lots more measures out of country to stop people and had been successful in that. Secondly, if people did get into this country then they were issued with biometric material and that allowed tracking through the system. This was still developing technology but that was the aim. Asked whether not taking the ID card would bar them from social services, the PMOS said that as we developed the scheme further considerations would apply, but firstly you had to implement the scheme.

Put that deportation was already considered on a case-by-case basis, the PMOS said that the criteria under which you could be considered for deportations included, for instance, that you had to have served twelve months. That should go in the Prime Minister’s view. The bar should be much lower. Asked whether all the IND guidelines would come under reconsideration, the PMOS said that was correct. This was precisely what he had meant by an ad hoc process building up over years. Put that it was case-by-case now and not which country a person was going back to, the PMOS said yes, but this was precisely why you had to look very carefully at the criteria by which you were judging. The presumption should be that you would be deported unless there were very good reasons not to. We needed to codify and put in place that more limited range of criteria where you were not deported. Asked whether this would be government legislation or a legal judgement, the PMOS said that working out how in administrative terms you changed the presumption was precisely what was going on at the moment. Put that there was not a presumption about countries at present, judges took a position case-by-case, the PMOS said that if you looked at the overall criteria which had built up over the years it added up to an inhibitor to deporting people. The Prime Minister was determined to introduce into the system a presumption where unless a strict criterion was met people should be deported.

Asked whether the Prime Minister accepted that he had changed his language on this issue, the PMOS said that he, as PMOS, was saying exactly the same thing as he had two weeks ago. Unless there were operational reasons, such as in the case of Somalia, or direct safety concerns for the individual then the presumption should be that the person should be deported. Nothing had changed. Put that the Prime Minister had said irrespective of any claim, the PMOS said that was in respect of the country they were returning to not direct threats to an individual, it was the country he had been talking about. Asked whether the new criteria would be legislative and supersede the 1971 and 2002 Immigration Acts, the PMOS said that the process of thinking that through was precisely what we were going through at the moment. Asked which were the three countries that were not safe, the PMOS said the three countries where the FCO and UN advised against all travel were Somalia, Chad and the Ivory Coast. Asked what happened if the recipient country refused to take them back, the PMOS said this was precisely why we were negotiating such things as memoranda of understanding. As he had said two weeks ago there were all sorts of ways this could be approached such as negotiations with third party countries. The key point was the message that you sent through the system, which was that the presumption should be that you deported someone who had served time in prison for an offence.

Put by the BBC’s Political Editor that it was about doing something not just another set of words, the PMOS disputed such cynicism and suggested if he looked at the deportation statistics he had read out in the morning briefing he would see that deportations had gone up by 20% last year. This was action. If he also looked at the comparison between 1997, when 6000 people were deported, and 2004, when 20 000 were deported, that was doing something too. So the facts showing that something was being done were there for people to see, if they wished to do so.

Asked how confident the government was about the legislative avenue, when critics were saying that the problem was not the Human Rights Act (HRA) but the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the PMOS said that the point that he and the government had made was that we were, quite rightly, signatories of the Convention, which we had been for 50 years. The HRA embodied that in legislation in this country as it did in many other European countries. Other European countries, for instance France, had no problems with deportations. Therefore the question we had to ask was why did we in this country. This was what we would look at it between now and June and see what the problems were. Then we would decide what was needed to deal with those problems. We needed to carry out that review first to find the answers and not block off avenues at this stage. The basic point remained – other countries were signatories of the ECHR and other countries had human rights legislation that reflected the convention, as we did, but they did not have problems deporting people.

Asked if specific threats to an individual also meant specific groups of people, for example opposition parties, the PMOS said that he would not be writing the policy guidelines in a press briefing, but his understanding was that it was more in terms of specific threats to individuals. Asked whether the Prime Minister wanted 100% to leave, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister wanted the presumption to be that the "vast bulk", to use his term, of people left and it was only in exceptional circumstances that people would not. If we were getting to a situation where the figures out next week told a different story in terms of the balance of failed applications and removals that again was evidence of the distance travelled. Such figures would be further evidence that things were being done.

Asked how much the review would look at the right not be deported at the risk of torture as an absolute right which could not be balanced by domestic concerns, the PMOS said, without commenting on specific cases, if other European countries continued to carry out deportations the question was why did the circumstances in this country appear to be different from those other countries. Asked if there was a timetable for the deportation review, the PMOS suggested that they would no doubt have gathered from the Prime Minister’s view, as expressed at PMQs, that he believed this was a matter of some urgency.

Briefing took place at 7:00 | Search for related news

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