The current chaos in Calais is no advert for common borders and EU involvement in migration policy. The introduction of the Schengen system of no borders between most EU countries has to be coupled with a strong border wherever a Schengen EU country shares a frontier or faces across the sea to a non EU nation. France has found out that her border with Italy allows many illegal migrants to come from Italy, because the original Italian frontier was not strongly policed. The EU shows no ability to settle fair and acceptable rules over legal admissions, nor any great ability to police its borders through its various member states governments.
The UK is half in and half out of the EU system. Not in Schengen, the UK can police its border to some extent. Under EU rules however, it is not free to make all the decisions it might like on benefits, treatment of migrants on arrival, and rejection of claims to asylum or residence. Many of these matters for the UK are influenced or affected by EU and ECHR law. The Schengen borderless area was agreed between some EU states in 1985, and incorporated into the EU Treaties at Amsterdam in 1999.Labour did opt us out of most of that, but opted us into the police and judicial co-operation arrangements and the Schengen Information System. Conservatives opposed Schengen and Amsterdam at the time.
The UK is currently seeking the co-operation of the French authorities to improve security at the UK’s frontier in Calais. Their willingness to improve security is important to us, and it is right that the UK supplies support to the task of improving security. However, we want a longer term and more satisfactory solution than each night police having to resist attacks upon the fences, trains and lorries by people desperate to reach the UK by illegal means. That requires changes to UK and EU policy.
France may like to revisit Schengen with her partners and see if she can reduce the numbers entering France from Italy, Spain and other EU neighbours. That is not something the UK will have much influence over. There are few signs that the common migration policy works or is about the be reformed sensibly.
The UK is seeking to toughen its stance, to send a message to would be illegal migrants that getting to the UK is not a good idea for them. The UK announced under the Coalition that illegals will not have access to housing, bank accounts, driving licences, benefits and the rest. The new government is now seeking to put in place detailed legislation and administration to make sure that happens.
Yesterday came the news that landlords will be expected to evict illegal migrants when they are told by the Home Office that their asylum claim has failed. I have no problem with criminal sanctions being taken against the small minority of landlords who allow all too many illegal migrants to rent space in overcrowded properties for high rents for the whole house, knowing their tenants will keep quiet about conditions because they are not legally settled here. I trust decent landlords will not end up in prison because they have made a mistake about an individual’s residence status, or have been misled by false or misleading documents.
The BBC Today and World at One programmes did some good interviews of Ministers on this topic. They stressed that surely the prime duty to sort this out should rest with the Home Office. The issue is why doesn’t the Home Office move quickly to ask people to leave and help them leave the country as soon as their case is settled? The government points out that it does do this in a number of cases. The choice surely is a simple one. If someone is illegal that means they should leave the country. If they are granted asylum or residence for other reasons they should be properly supported. We wish to avoid a third category of people who are not legally entitled to be here, yet who qualify for inadequate support, finding it difficult to do much by legal means owing to the tougher rules.
Meanwhile this tragedy is argument enough for the UK to regain control over her own borders, welfare and housing policies.