As published in The Telegraph.
With every passing week, the Channel migrant crisis spirals further out of control.
The Government insists it is committed to taking tough action to solve the problem. Only a couple of days ago, Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, wrote a foreword to a report by the Centre for Policy Studies that was robust, to say the least.
Commentators and some in Government continue to apportion blame to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), saying it hamstrings us when it comes to sending back bogus asylum seekers. That CPS report on immigration holds up ECHR withdrawal as a potential part of the solution. Withdrawing from the ECHR may deliver stark headlines, but it will not solve the problem.
First, it will confuse the issue. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) posed a threat to our sovereignty. That is part of the reason why we left the EU. But though often lumped in with it, the ECJ is distinct from the ECHR, which poses far less of a problem in this regard.
Rulings from the ECJ are legally binding on all Governments under the Court’s remit, and are inescapable. In contrast, it is possible to push back against ECHR rulings. In 2005, the ECHR ruled that the UK must give prisoners the vote. In 2010, it gave the Government a deadline by which to obey it. I subsequently moved a motion in Parliament that successfully instructed the Government of the time not to follow the ECHR’s orders. Dominic Raab – now Secretary of State for Justice and Deputy Prime Minister – seconded my motion, so today’s Government is fully aware of this example.
When it comes to tackling the migrant crisis, we should look to what our neighbours do. Sweden is a signatory to the ECHR, and has a 0 per cent acceptance rate for Albanian asylum seekers. It simply refuses to let them stay, since they come from a safe country.
In fact, Sweden organised its approach to asylum around the principles and case law established by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Court ruled that Sweden could not summarily reject asylum applications without reference to the country of origin of the applicant. So Sweden simply published a list of safe countries from which it would not accept any applicants, and amended its laws and procedures accordingly.
External courts have not been able to stop the Swedish Government from tackling the problem head-on, so why should they stop us, particularly in the post-Brexit age?
It is not just Sweden. In 2021 our acceptance rate for Albanian asylum seekers was 55 per cent. Among the remaining ECHR members for whom we have data, nobody else other than Italy had an acceptance rate of more than 5 per cent. Most were at zero. So much for problematic ECHR meddling.
I recently wrote to the Prime Minister with the backing of well over 50 other Tory MPs to ask him to introduce emergency legislation to allow us to reject asylum applicants from safe countries. If the Government did this, it would not be making itself some kind of international pariah, as some activists would no doubt assert – it would simply be following the example set by Sweden.
The Government looks set to introduce a policy along these lines. But this, of course, would be just one of a number of steps needed to get the situation under control. We would still need other legislative changes to tackle this increasingly urgent issue.
Most asylum seekers, for example, claim to be victims of modern slavery. They are able to do thanks to British law. It makes the process of deporting them much more arduous. So let’s apply a common-sense solution, and when those who purport to be trafficking victims come from safe countries, send them straight back home. Surely that is what they would want if they really were victims as they claim? If they wish to pursue other legal redress, let them do so from their home.
These solutions are clear and straightforward. If the Government legislates with precision and acts with firmness and compassion, we will see a rapid solution to the Albanian dimension of this problem without any interference from the ECHR at all.