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Can the Conservative Party become United on Migration?

migration
Lord Kirkhope on migration

Lord Kirkhope

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate

Lord Kirkhope discusses solutions to the migration crisis and highlights ways the Conservative Party can become united on the issue.

The UK Government has taken significant strides in tackling illegal migration. Through agreements with Italy and France, and a returns agreement with Albania, it has reinforced its commitment to managing asylum processes effectively. The employment of more staff to address the application backlog has already yielded results.

Despite grandstanding and amendments proposed by some members of my Party, the Bill successfully navigated through the Commons and is now set to enter the Lords, where the situation could become more challenging. The Conservative Party does not hold a majority in the Upper Chamber, and as such, my colleagues from both sides of the House will be scrutinising this legislation meticulously. Their focus will be on ensuring that it adheres to international law and upholds the integrity of our domestic courts.

From my perspective as a lawyer and former Immigration Minister, I believe the Government has inadvertently walked into a trap with the Rwanda Safety bill. While robust immigration policies are essential, the current proposal surrounding Rwanda raises substantial challenges. It risks damaging our international legal standing, exacerbating internal divisions within the Conservative Party and, even if enacted, the bill alone will not solve the problem.

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Rwanda has become a litmus test for the Prime Minister’s leadership, revealing a worrying level of discord within our party. Such infighting is counterproductive and only undermines our collective efforts to ‘stop the boats’.

While I may not fully align with the approach towards Rwanda, I understand the necessity of loyalty – to our Prime Minister and the party’s overarching objectives. However, loyalty should not blind us to the practicalities and potential pitfalls of policy decisions. The current situation is a classic case of good intentions potentially leading to unwanted consequences. It is worth remembering that the Rwanda Agreement works in both directions; the UK has already taken a number of asylum seekers from Rwanda.

Addressing illegal migration requires a balanced approach that upholds party unity and prioritises the national interest. It’s imperative that we redirect our efforts towards more pragmatic solutions, leveraging our resources in ways that are both effective and unifying.

It’s like a toolbox – we need to know which tools to use and how to use them properly. There are many tools available to the Government and I believe that now is the time to use them.

We need to reallocate further resources for quicker and stricter processing of asylum applications, and the Government must focus on more efficient removal of individuals not meeting the 1951 UN Refugee Convention criteria. We need to address the fact that the UK has one of the highest asylum acceptance rates in Europe, far surpassing those of Germany, Italy, and France. When I was Immigration Minister, 56% of asylum applications were refused. However, by 2022 this figure had decreased to just 24%.

The government should prioritise the creation and maintenance of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers through UK embassies and consulates. Such routes would help to prevent exploitation, abuse by smugglers and traffickers, and ultimately diminish channel crossings.

Building on recent successes with Albania, the Government should pursue additional return agreements with other third countries, potentially with the EU as well. History suggests that this will work. It is worth considering that the 2016 EU-Turkey returns agreement led to sea crossings decreasing by 97% within 12 months.

I remember that a ‘carrot and stick’ approach proved effective in encouraging countries of origin to repatriate their citizens. Democracies claiming to uphold human rights should be compelled to accept failed asylum seekers, facing financial and political repercussions for non-compliance.

With migration set to become an even more pressing issue in the year ahead, the Government needs to use all the tools that it has available and not remain doggedly focused on a singular, questionable policy. In doing so, it can restore public confidence in our immigration system, prevent tragedies at sea, dismantle human trafficking networks, and preserve party unity.

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