I spoke in the Commons debate on Monday on the subject of EU migration:
John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I support the Government’s decision to exercise the opt-out. I am pleased that the Government and the official Opposition agree that the United Kingdom should not be part of the Schengen system and that they both wanted to exercise the opt-out.
As an island nation with a neighbour in the Republic of Ireland and with the three countries on our principal island entirely surrounded by water with no land frontier, it clearly makes sense for the United Kingdom to have her own border arrangements. Indeed, it is fundamental to a sovereign people and a sovereign Parliament that one of the decisions that we should be able to make for ourselves is who we invite in and on what terms we invite them in to become citizens of our country. It is a great privilege to be a citizen of our country. It brings all sorts of benefits, as well as responsibilities. Surely that is a decision that this Parliament should wish to make, with the Government offering guidance and leadership, to show that we are in control on this fundamental point.
As the Minister indicated in response to interventions, even though we have opted out of this proposal for allocating refugees and other recent arrivals in the European Union under a quota system, what the Schengen countries do at their common external frontier still matters to the United Kingdom. While we remain under the current European Union treaties, we have to accept the freedom of movement rules. That means that if any other country or part of the European Union accepts people in, they may well be eligible, in due course, to move to the United Kingdom. We are therefore interested directly in how those countries conduct themselves and what they wish to do by way of inviting people into the general European Union area.
We are also interested in the policy of the Schengen countries, which we have opted out of, because the British Government have none the less agreed to spend money and offer resource to police the common external frontier of the Schengen area. In particular, we have committed resources to tackling some part of the desperate problems that the EU migration policy has caused in the Mediterranean, where all too many people commit themselves to hazardous and expensive journeys and then need to be rescued by the Royal Navy and other naval contingents.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend have any idea of the extent of our share of the costs to which he has just referred? Perhaps he might ask the Minister to consider that. As I understand it, it could be as much as £150 million, but, because the cost of providing for Schengen relocations will, by its nature, be ever-increasing, presumably that amount will go up.
John Redwood: That is an important issue and the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee is right to raise it.
I have some sympathy for what the SNP has said. It is a disgrace that our rich and relatively successful continent is facing this huge crisis, with many refugees and economic migrants arriving, and the system is unable to cope with them. We have to ask why that is. Given that we do not wish to see people undertaking such hazardous journeys and that we do not feel that the way in which European Union policy is impacting on those people is decent, we need to influence our partners in the European Union to do something better.
Again, I find myself in complete agreement with the Government. They are right that the correct thing to do for refugees is to work with the United Nations and our other partners to make sure that there is a safe place of refuge near to the place they fled from, and be there to talk to them and to consider who would like to come to countries in Europe and elsewhere and decide on what basis we will admit people from those camps. That is surely the humane way to approach the issue, and it obviates the need for people to undertake extremely hazardous, and often very expensive, journeys.
Only the richest and fittest among those groups can undertake such journeys, only then to discover that the hazards are too great and that they may lose their lives or need rescuing from the Mediterranean. Surely the money that we are spending on picking people out of the Mediterranean could be better spent on an orderly system closer to the place from which people are fleeing, and on helping them to get legal transport to come to the country of their choice once they have been offered that facility.
Such a system would also mean that we could make clearer and better distinctions between economic migrants and genuine refugees. There are, of course, a lot of genuine refugees from a country such as Syria, but different considerations should apply in the way that we respond to a lot of economic migrants who come along at the same time from a range of countries in the middle east and Africa.
Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): Does the right hon. Gentleman have anything further to add about the unaccompanied children who are arriving in Europe and who appear to be extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance?
John Redwood: Of course our hearts—mine as well as the hon. Lady’s—go out to those children, and such things should not be happening. It is only happening because adults have allowed it to, or made it happen, because children do not normally have their own money or wherewithal to do such things.
Somewhere in the process adults have persuaded or set up those children to make those journeys, and placed them in the hands of people traffickers who may be very destructive towards their interests and their lives. The remit of the United Kingdom is quite large, but we cannot get into the homes and minds of all the parents, aunts and uncles who commit those children to such hazardous journeys, or into the minds of other adults who should be offering care if a child’s parents have been tragically taken from them by violence in the country in which they were living.
Surely the European Union, with all its powerful and rich countries, could do a better job in coming up with an orderly and sensible way of handing help and assistance to genuine refugees who are being forced out of war-torn areas or countries by civil wars and violence. We must also send a clear message to economic migrants that there is an orderly system, and that they are not welcome if they turn up as illegal migrants. People should go through a proper process in the country from which they are coming, or in a place adjacent to that country if they have already started their journey. That would be a better way of doing things.
When Angela Merkel—perhaps for the best of reasons, both because Germany would like a bigger workforce and because she felt very sorry for these people—suggested that many more migrants should turn up, I fear that that compounded the problem. Far from being a caring solution, it meant that many thousands more people committed themselves to hazardous journeys, only to find when they arrived that other countries in the European Union did not have the same view as Angela Merkel, that the policy was not clear, and that certain borders were shut in a rather unpleasant way with razor wire and high fences, because the numbers were simply too great and people could not be handled.
I support the motion and urge the Government to do far more to try to persuade our partners that EU policy is letting down refugees and economic migrants, as well as the member states and inhabitants of the European Union. This issue is of vital interest to us because we want the EU to have a more caring policy, and because decisions taken in any other EU country can have a direct impact on our own migration policy, owing to our current status as a member of that body and as part of the freedom of movement provisions.
Many people watching these awful tragedies unfold on television, or when reading newspapers or even listening to some of our debates in this place, will conclude that as an island nation we can—and should—control our own borders. We could do a rather more humane job than the European Union is currently doing, and perhaps for Britain, that is the best answer.