UK will ‘not take back asylum seekers from Ireland until France takes back Channel migrants’

Politics

The UK will not to take back asylum seekers who cross the border into Ireland “until the EU accepts that we can send them back to France”, according to a government source.

The comment comes amid an escalating row between Dublin and Westminster over the Irish government’s plans for new legislation to enable asylum seekers who cross the border from Northern Ireland to be sent back to the UK.

Irish justice minister Helen McEntee told a parliamentary committee last week that more than 80% of recent arrivals in Ireland came via the land border with Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister and foreign secretary Micheal Martin also said the threat of deportation to Rwanda was causing “fearful” migrants to head for Ireland instead of the UK.

As the row deepened on Sunday night, Irish prime minister Simon Harris, vowed the country would “not provide a loophole for anybody else’s migration challenges”.

He also said that “close” collaboration and cooperation between the British and Irish governments was “not just desirable, but absolutely essential”.

However, a UK government source said any bid to return asylum seekers from Ireland would be rejected unless France agreed to do the same with boats crossing the Channel.

“We won’t accept any asylum returns from the EU via Ireland until the EU accepts that we can send them back to France,” the source said.

Taoiseach Simon Harris (centre) with Tishe Emmanuella Fatunbi (left) UCD Psychology student and Residential Team Leader with fellow students at Government Buildings in Dublin, after the Taoiseach announced investment in student accommodation. Picture date: Thursday April 25, 2024.
Image:
Taoiseach Simon Harris. Pic: PA

It comes as figures showed the number of migrants that crossed the Channel in small boats during the first four months of the year was at its highest-ever level.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported on Sunday night that a major operation by the Home Office to detain migrants across the UK in preparation for their deportation to Rwanda had begun “weeks earlier than expected”. The report has not been verified by Sky News.

Ministers from both countries are set to meet in London on Monday as part of a pre-planned conference, involving Mr Martin and the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris.

However, a meeting between the UK home secretary, James Cleverly, and Ms McEntee, planned for Monday, was postponed late on Sunday night.


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‘A global challenge’

Mr Martin said the UK government’s Rwanda policy – which became law last week after much legal and political back-and-forth – had already impacted Ireland because people were “fearful” of staying in the UK.

“Maybe that’s the impact it was designed to have,” the former taoiseach told The Daily Telegraph.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Sky News on Sunday that the UK’s Rwanda scheme was already working as a deterrent.

He also said the comments from Irish politicians showed that illegal migration was a “global challenge”.

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Rwanda scheme is working, says PM

“[That] is why you’re seeing multiple countries talk about doing third country partnerships, looking at novel ways to solve this problem, and I believe [they] will follow where the UK has led,” he said.

Mr Harris, who took over as taoiseach in April, is already facing pressure from voters to tackle migration in Ireland – which has seen anti-immigrant protests in recent months.

Read more from Sky News:
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He has asked his justice minister to “bring proposals to cabinet to amend existing law regarding the designation of safe ‘third countries’ and allowing the return of inadmissible international protection applicants to the UK”.

Irish ministers are expected to discuss emergency legislation on Tuesday.

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Ireland plans to return migrants to UK

The legislation is being drafted in response to an Irish High Court ruling that found Ireland designating the UK as a “safe third country” for returning asylum seekers, in the context of the Rwanda plan, is contrary to EU law.

Ms McEntee said she would seek government approval for the legislation to be “rapidly drafted so that the UK can again be designated as a safe country for returns”.

“My department has been working on this as a priority since last month’s High Court judgment and I intend that returns to the UK will recommence once the law is enacted,” she added.

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