Brexit will reduce Britain’s ability to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in unsafe dinghies back to France, a former head of immigration enforcement warned today.
Amid claims that the dangerous sea crossings will multiply unless migrants are seen being returned, the ex-senior Home Office official said leaving the EU would end current agreements designed to deter such attempts.
David Wood, former deputy chief executive of the Border Agency and ex-director general of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, said Britain may lose protections currently given under the Dublin Agreement, which says asylum seekers should claim refuge in the first safe country they arrive in.
“Brexit may affect all of this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Once we are out of the EU we are not, I suspect, part of Dublin. Currently if people come here and claim asylum and it is found they claimed asylum in another EU country they can be returned to that EU country. If we are out of the Dublin Agreement we would be out of that.”
Mr Wood said that although the numbers crossing were currently low, they could “escalate into far more”.
A Government minister told the Standard that returning migrants was key to reducing the number of crossings. “The priority has to be to get them back to France as soon as possible,” the minister said. “If it is advertised that people can get safely here and remain, then the people traffickers will benefit. But if it becomes known that they cannot land here without being returned then nobody will pay them.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid this week announced two Border Force cutters will be redeployed from the Med to patrol the Channel. But it was unclear whether they would mainly pick migrants out of the water and bring them to safety in the UK, or try to stop boats making the crossing.
The Home Office said it is working with the National Crime Agency and French counterparts “to target organised crime gangs behind these dangerous attempts and stop boats before they leave French waters.” Some 230 migrants tried to cross the Channel in December, with half prevented from getting across by French authorities.
A spokesman for Mr Javid, who today visited Border Forces in Dover, said Britain relied mainly on bilateral relations with France to deter migrants. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the “humanitarian aspect” of crossings and said: “Europe cannot close its borders to them.”