The government is right to argue that we should not be part of the EU’s new quota system for migrants arriving in Italy. It is right to help with the humanitarian task of rescuing people from the seas, and to stress the need to track down and prosecute the cruel traffickers who charge for people to embark on poor boats and risk their lives.
The government is also right on the broader policy issue. Many of the new arrivals in Italy are economic migrants, not asylum seekers, If the EU gives all of them who make it citizenship it becomes a reward for the traffickers, a green light for the expansion of their business. Economic migrants we help rescue should not queue jump or be given EU rights on arrival, if we wish to stop this lethal trade.
Fortunately the UK does have its opt out from Criminal Justice measures so we can decline to be part of any quota scheme brought forward under this legal base. It just shows how important it is to opt out and to keep our veto.
It also, however, reminds us of the continuing problems over the free movement of people. If other countries in the EU do decide to increase their acceptance of new migrants and grant them full rights, then in due course they become eligible for the EU movement rights. It is a timely reminder of how we need both a government that will use an opt our or veto when needed, and will then seek a new deal to tackle the underlying problem of free movement.