Agreements reached in principle at the EU-Turkey summit on Monday represent a basis on which in future all migrants who arrive in Greece could be returned to Turkey. That would, if implemented, break the business model of the people smugglers, and end the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe. That is something that the Prime Minister and the Government have been arguing for nearly a year.
The agreement would not impose any new obligations on the United Kingdom in respect of either resettlement or relocation. As we are not members of the Schengen area, we are able to maintain our own border controls and make our own decisions on asylum. Nor would the United Kingdom be obliged to resettle any additional refugees. We are already resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians directly from the region through our own national scheme. We will not be part of the process of liberalising visas—that is a matter for Schengen countries—and we will still require visas for Turkish citizens to visit Britain.
The European Union also agreed on Monday to consider in due course extending the current financial support to help Turkey. There are currently no formal proposals for further funding on returns, and we will wait to see any proposals before commenting. We have already agreed to pay our £250 million share of the existing €3 billion Turkey refugee facility, and I made a written ministerial statement about that earlier this week. This builds on our existing £1.1 billion bilateral support for the Syria crisis and the additional bilateral commitment that we made at the recent London conference on Syria. The Turkey refugee facility is designed to provide immediate humanitarian support and also to fund the schools, hospitals and housing required over the longer term to support refugees and the communities that host them.
The agreement at the EU-Turkey summit on Monday will ensure that the €3 billion commitment agreed at last November’s EU-Turkey summit is properly and expeditiously disbursed. Intensive work will take place over the coming week with the aim of reaching final agreement at the next European Council on 17 and 18 March, after which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House as usual.
One of the reasons why I asked for this urgent question was that the statement from the EU Heads of State or Government issued yesterday makes it very clear that the visa liberalisation applies to all member states of the European Union, not just the Schengen area. I quote from the official document, which says that the EU Heads of State or Government agreed
“to accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016”.
Will the Minister therefore be seeking clarification and amendment to this statement, given that he told us that these visa requirement waivers will not apply to all member states, or will he negotiate some kind of opt-out to make it very clear that those waivers will not do so? It will obviously be a matter of concern if the text issued from the Heads of State or Government meeting is at variance with the clear statements that we have been getting from Ministers here and through the media in the past few hours.
Secondly, I am surprised that the Minister has not mentioned that there was an agreement to an accelerated process to get Turkey to join the European Union as a full member, so will he comment on the United Kingdom’s position on the pace of the proceedings to get Turkey into the European Union, on what arrangements, if any, he thinks will need to be made when Turkey joins over freedom of movement, on whether there would need to be transitional arrangements, and on whether Britain would wish to be part of the freedom of movement area without proper transitional arrangements and protections?
Thirdly, I find it curious that we still do not know what we might be paying. If our share of the €3 billion is £250 million, plus the contribution that we have made through the EU budget, presumably we are looking at more than £250 million on top of that if the sum is doubled from €3 billion to €6 billion, because I presume that that will also be a levy on the member states. This should be properly reported to the House of Commons because it is an additional contribution to the EU, on top of the normal budget.
Let me respond to my right hon. Friend’s three questions. We already have an opt-out from Schengen; that is written into the treaties. Similar arrangements apply to Ireland and Denmark in slightly different respects. The legal measure that would be used for any liberalisation of visa arrangements for Turkey would be a Schengen measure that would be brought forward under the appropriate treaty base, so it would not apply to the United Kingdom, Denmark or Ireland. I made it clear in my initial response to my right hon. Friend that the Government do not intend to liberalise our visa arrangements with Turkey.
On my right hon. Friend’s second point, it has of course been the policy of successive British Governments, including the one in which he served with such distinction, to support the eventual accession of Turkey to EU membership. That is not going to happen in the near future. The statement of the Heads of State or Government said on Monday that they would prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible. To open a chapter such as chapter 23, which deals with the rule of law, might well be very helpful to strengthen the dialogue that we shall be having with Turkey about the rule of law, human rights and the standards that are expected of candidate members of the European Union but, again, no agreement has yet been reached on any aspect of opening new chapters, and many member states will have their views about that.
On my right hon. Friend’s point about Turkish accession—or any new member’s accession—and freedom of movement, the Government have said repeatedly that we will not agree to any further EU enlargement unless we first have in place new arrangements for transitional controls on freedom of movement so that we do not take on the risk, as we did in 2004, of very large movements of people in the aftermath of a new accession. Every decision to do with EU membership requires unanimity, so every country has a veto on every such step.
Thirdly, my right hon. Friend asked about finance. As I said, there are no formal proposals on the table. There is an ongoing negotiation at EU level in which there are many different moving parts. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement after the European Council next week, but the refugee facility agreed last year is budgeted for and is causing the Commission to reprioritise its various spending programmes, which seems a sensible thing for it to do.
The countries of the middle east and the European Union are now confronted by the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war. In the past 12 months alone, more than 1 million people have entered the EU by sea, mostly from Turkey to Greece. Does the Minister agree that the only way to deal with the crisis is to work with our European neighbours and other countries affected in the region, including Turkey? We welcome the fact that European nations are working together to try to find a solution, rather than having a situation of individual countries trying to find individual solutions to what is clearly a collective challenge.
We must recognise that we all have a responsibility to ensure that the language that we use reflects the fact that we are talking about fellow human beings in the most difficult of circumstances. Does the Minister therefore agree that it was deeply irresponsible of the Prime Minister to refer to people who are frightened, tired and fearful—families, vulnerable women, children and old people—as a “bunch of migrants”?
Does the Minister agree that the only way to reduce the overall flow of refugees is to tackle its root cause: the slaughter of the Syrian civil war? It would therefore be helpful if he could give us his latest assessment of progress with the ceasefire. The EU and Turkey say that they have agreed the broad principles of a plan to ease the migration crisis. How many of the promised 20,000 Syrian refugees have we settled? What additional financial contribution will the UK be making? When does the Minister expect any additional payments to be made? Can he set out how that money will break the business model of the smugglers exploiting the most vulnerable in the most dangerous way? How will we ensure that the money will be spent on what it was intended to be spent on? Who is monitoring this, and how? With the threat of conflict and climate change across the world, does the Minister agree that this shows exactly why we need to work together internationally, including by being a member of the EU, rather than walking away from our shared interests and responsibilities?
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is in this country’s interests, and in the interests of every European country, that we put together a determined and coherent response to the crisis. I also agree that no single European country—not Greece, Germany, the UK or anyone else—can solve this human tragedy, or stop the wicked work of the people traffickers who are exploiting it, on its own.
The hon. Lady asked about the ceasefire in Syria. The latest information indicates that it is holding, but it is not holding perfectly—that will be no surprise to any Member. The Prime Minister, along with other European leaders, had a conference call with President Putin a few days ago to take stock of how things now look, and to urge him to work towards a political settlement and a political transition in Syria, which we continue to believe represents the long-term answer to try to rebuild that country and to give people hope that they can have a safe and secure life there.
The hon. Lady asked how the business model of the people traffickers would be harmed by the agreement reached last week. One key element of the deal—I emphasise again that it is yet to be finalised—would be that somebody who went in a boat and was intercepted or processed having reached one of the Greek islands would face being sent back to Turkey. They would then be put to the back of the queue for legal resettlement, so the incentive for people to entrust their safety to the people carriers would be removed.
The hon. Lady asked about the number of arrivals in this country under the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme. The number is now running at more than 1,000, so this is going on track and much as we had planned. I ought to recognise the role that the devolved Administrations and local authorities of all political colours have played in trying to make the scheme successful, and in making the process as easy as possible for the people whom we are trying to help.
My right hon. Friend correctly says that there is no obligation on the United Kingdom to take in extra migrants under the deal, but will he confirm that, once any of the 1 million migrants who have come to Europe in the past year and the 1 million who are expected are given EU citizenship, they will all technically have a right to come to the United Kingdom, as long as we remain in the European Union?
The fact that we are outside Schengen means that we impose border checks on everybody, including EU citizens. We stop and turn back EU citizens when we have good reason for thinking that their presence in the United Kingdom would be a threat to public safety.
On my right hon. Friend’s specific point, the overwhelming majority of those who have been granted refugee status in Europe have been granted that in Germany, which is where people are trying to get to. The proportion of all refugees in Germany who get German citizenship is roughly 2.2%, and the numbers are small because the German citizenship procedure is so rigorous. It takes eight to 10 years before somebody can get German citizenship. To achieve that, they need to have a completely clean criminal record, to show that they have an independent source of income and to pass an integration test, including by demonstrating a knowledge of German. Some of the fears that have been expressed are rather exaggerated, given the reality of the German situation.
SNP Members share the deep concerns expressed by the United Nations that the proposals would contravene refugees’ right to protection under European and international law. Vincent Cochetel, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Europe regional director, said yesterday that an agreement on this basis would not be consistent with either European or international law. With that in mind, what legal advice has the Minister received on the proposals from his officials? Will he set out how the Government will promote accountability and transparency around the €3 billion that is due to be given to Turkey by the end of March? Finally, what action have the Government taken within the process to promote human rights in Turkey and to hold Erdogan to account for his recent actions against his own citizens?
On the hon. Lady’s final point, we speak all the time to Turkish colleagues about human rights and rule of law matters. As I have said, we believe that the EU accession process—particularly chapters 23 and 24, if they can be opened—provides the best means for seeking those reforms in Turkey, which I think would command support on both sides of the House.
The statement of the Heads of State or Government says in terms that all those arrangements must comply with international law, so every Government have taken that on board. We should not forget that Turkey has provided refuge to about 2.6 million people who have fled from Syria. A large number of those people have been living in safety in UN-administered camps inside Turkey for many months, and sometimes for years. Please let us not forget to acknowledge the hospitality that not just the Turkish Government, but the ordinary people of Turkey, have shown.
The opening of chapter 23 negotiations simply serves to confirm that the EU has indeed agreed to accelerate the process of considering Turkey’s application for accession to the EU. Does my right hon. Friend consider it right even to enter such negotiations when Turkey’s human rights record is extremely worrying, not least in respect of its Kurdish population?
We certainly hope that the Turkish Government will resume as soon as possible the peace process with the Turkish Kurds, which appeared to be making quite some progress up to perhaps six months ago. On my right hon. Friend’s other point, as I have said, there has been no agreement yet as to whether any particular chapter or any number of chapters of the accession negotiations should be opened. The Heads of Government will return to that next week at the European Council. There would have to be unanimous agreement by every EU member state to each and every decision to open a new chapter, or to agree that progress had been made on any element of a new stage in Turkish accession negotiations. This is not a swift process.
Under the deal, Turkey has received €3 billion, and it has asked for a further €3 billion by the end of 2018. When will those negotiations start? Given that 90% of those entering the EU illegally do so with the assistance of criminal gangs, why have the Minister and the EU not ensured that Turkey will be paid on a performance-related basis for the number of people traffickers it brings to justice?
People traffickers need to be brought to justice in whichever jurisdiction they operate, but it is sometimes the case that the people committing the crimes involved in trafficking at the sharp end and organising the boats are not the people at the top of those organisations. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are talking about very professional, well-organised and well-funded international criminal networks that often indulge in drug smuggling as well as in people smuggling. They are transnational companies that are engaged in criminal enterprise.
There has been no agreement yet on anything beyond the €3 billion refugee facility that was agreed in November last year. Since that agreement, Turkey has taken a number of steps to help Syrian refugees, such as by making it possible for them to get legitimate work within Turkey and opening up work permit arrangements for them.
All hon. Members will have heard very disturbing reports recently of a newspaper office in Turkey being closed down for doing nothing more than publishing critical commentary about the Turkish Government. Will the Minister please inform the House whether the member states of the European Union value ever closer union and freedom of movement over and above the rights to freedom of speech of the individual?
The EU and the United Kingdom Government made it very clear last week that we continue to see freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the media as a cornerstone of the values that we champion at an international level. Adherence to those principles is written into the European treaties, and no country that fails to subscribe to them can expect to receive EU membership.
The principle of closing off the dangerous smuggler routes and instead providing safe legal routes to sanctuary is clearly sensible, but the Minister will know of the legal, practical and political problems with the plans put forward. He rightly makes it clear that there will be no changes to Turkish visa arrangements for Britain, but I suspect that in many others areas of the proposals there will be significant changes in the week ahead. In particular, have the British Government raised the plight of Afghan and Iraqi refugees? We know that about half the lone children who claimed asylum in Europe in January were from Afghanistan. What provision will be made for them?
The right hon. Lady makes a reasonable point, and the position of people who have come from other war-torn countries needs to be seriously considered, but we need always to bear in mind the basic principles of the 1951 UN convention on refugees: first, that to get refugee status one must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution; and secondly, that when somebody flees they are expected to apply for refugee status in the first safe country they reach, and not try to pick and choose, perhaps at the behest of people traffickers, between various safe countries.
May I press my right hon. Friend further on the human rights and rule of law abuses in Turkey? Last year Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice; Sir Jeffrey Jowell, the international jurist; Sarah Palin, the human rights barrister, and I wrote a report—I provided a copy to him, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the shadow Foreign Secretary—outlining the serial and appalling human rights and rule of law abuses by the current Turkish Government. Will the Minister alter or firm up the Government’s attitude towards Turkish accession to the EU? While these abuses continue, there should be no question of opening any chapters at all, even though we need Turkey as a member of NATO and its agreement to help with the migration problem.
We certainly continue to regard adherence to the principles of human rights, freedom of expression and belief and so on as things that should be at the heart of the reform work of any country seeking to join the EU. I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend, however, that the evidence from other accession negotiations is that we can secure much swifter and more significant progress towards the reforms we all want to see when we sit down and start working on the detailed benchmarks and progress measurements in those chapters of an EU accession that deal specifically with rule of law matters.
The amount of money the EU gives to Turkey is fully justified—I hope that more will come—for the reasons the Minister has explained, but will he accept, following on from previous questions, that the President of Turkey has done his best to undermine democratic rights in that country? We have seen the outright intimidation of critics; last week, a newspaper was taken over by his henchmen and turned into a mouthpiece for the regime; and more recently, the same thing happened to a news agency. Does he realise that there can be no question of Turkey becoming in any way associated with the EU while this intimidation of critics continues and so long as the President does a good impression of trying to follow Putin?
As I have said before, we continue to talk frequently to Turkish officials and Ministers at all levels about the importance we ascribe to human rights, the rule of law and freedom of expression, and that will remain a core element of our dialogue with Turkey.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh), I am not clear on the Government’s position on the legality of the mass transfer of intercepted migrants back to Turkey. What instructions are being given to the captain of Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay for when it intercepts a boatload of migrants? Has the captain been authorised to take those people back to Turkey? Will they be accepted back into Turkey? How does that fit with the comments from the UNHCR last night?
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was in the House for the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made on Monday about the naval operation. The NATO operation is engaged in initial reconnaissance and surveillance of illegal crossings. It then passes that information on to the Turkish authorities so that the Turkish coastguard can respond and carry out interceptions. At the moment, that work is not being done by NATO vessels.
Anyone watching the refugee scenes across Europe over the past year knew that we could not carry on as we were and that we needed to act in concert with others, in terms of both the consequences and the causes, which are rooted in war and conflict. I agree with the Minister, therefore, that no individual country can deal with the consequences alone. May I urge him to reject any approach that says Britain’s answer should be to pay nothing, do nothing and pull up the drawbridge?
This country has a long and proud tradition of seeking to help people in dire need, wherever they are in the world, and build political stability in areas within what I might describe as our own neighbourhood. There have been plenty of examples in our history and European history where the failure to grip problems decisively led to worse conflict, human suffering and political problems for European Government than would have been the case had action been taken earlier.
May I press my right hon. Friend further on the legality of the deal? As I understand it, the UN’s top official on refugees, Filippo Grandi, has expressed real concern about an arrangement that involves a blanket return of anyone from one country to another. I am particularly concerned because it looks as if the EU is trading one set of refugees in Greece for another in Turkey. I cannot see any guarantee in the arrangement that there will be any drop-off in numbers. In fact, I am beginning to find the arrangement very worrying.
As I said earlier, under this agreement, if it can be finalised next week, we will for the first time break the link between people getting into a boat or being rescued from a boat in the Aegean and their gaining the right to enter a resettlement or relocation process inside the EU. Instead, there will be an agreed legal route for people to go from the camps to European countries. That will provide a serious disincentive for people to place themselves in the ruthless and exploitative hands of the people traffickers.
On the matter of legality, the statement of the Heads of State or Government says in terms that whatever arrangement they might reach next week should be in accordance with both European and international law.
I wish to associate the Liberal Democrats with the comments on free speech and also with those we have just heard about the very troubling one-for-one refugee agreement, which raises both practical and moral concerns. The Minister is a very honourable man; surely he cannot be comfortable with an agreement that requires refugees to risk their lives travelling to the EU in return for another refugee, but only one from Syria, to get safe passage. That is entirely unacceptable.
The purpose is to put in place a set of arrangements that remove the incentives for people to entrust their safety to the people traffickers. Unless we are able to do that, the risk is exactly that the flow of people and the appalling casualties that result from that flow of people across the Aegean will continue.
As always, the Minister is putting in a very skilful performance, but the issue of whether Turkey should join the EU is terribly important. I am disappointed that once again the Foreign Secretary is not replying from the Dispatch Box. I do not think he has answered one urgent question of the last five. We like the Foreign Secretary so much that we would like to see more of him at the Dispatch Box.
On the question of Turkey joining the EU, the Minister has been absolutely clear today that it is Her Majesty’s Government’s considered opinion that Turkey should be a member of the EU. Apparently, we have allowed ourselves to be blackmailed into progressing this matter. Given the closure of the main opposition paper, Zaman, this week, will the Minister confirm as a matter of fact that because the EU believes so passionately in the free movement of people, once Turkey joins the EU, all 77 million Turks will be allowed to come to work and live here without any check or any opposition at all and there is nothing we can do about it?
As I said earlier, we are not yet at the point where anything has been finally agreed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement after next week’s European Council. Support for Turkey eventually to join the European Union is an objective that has been shared by Conservative and Labour Governments alike since before I entered the House of Commons. My hon. Friend is not correct to say that this is going to be rushed. That is certainly not the history of previous accession negotiations: they take many years, and there is a right of veto for every member state over every single decision associated with an accession process.
One issue that has to be sorted out during an accession negotiation is precisely what the arrangements for movement of people are going to be. As the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, the United Kingdom is not going to agree to any further new members of the European Union until we have new and different arrangements in place to ensure that a new member joining the EU cannot again lead to the very large migratory flows that we saw after 2004.
Turkey has indicated that it needs £6 billion to help address the problem of refugees, but it is much better to address the refugee crisis where it begins—and one of those places is Turkey. Will the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with the Turkish Government to ensure that the moneys allocated are sent to the places that need it most and to ensure that those of ethnic or Christian beliefs are able to receive them as well?
The money assigned in our bilateral spending and at EU level is going to people in need in Turkey and the surrounding states. There is a separate facility to give humanitarian support to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, but the large sums of money I have talked about so far are being spent in Turkey. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that both the United Kingdom and the European Union disburse that money largely through the United Nations relief agencies such as UNICEF and through the major reputable non-governmental humanitarian relief organisations, precisely so it can go to help those in need and that we can know exactly where it is going.
Those of us who are in favour of leaving the European Union are being pressed regularly on the need to provide certainty about what the world will look like outside, yet today the Minister’s speech has been full of caveats, maybes and what may or may not happen. Does he now accept that this is what “in” looks like for those of us who are concerned about human rights issues, freedom of speech issues and other things that would come with Turkish accession, that there can be no certainty about the fear factor of staying in, and that it certainly is not safer to stay in rather than to leave?
The reason why, as my hon. Friend put it, I am “caveating” some of what I am saying is that although there was a negotiation at the summit on Monday, there has not yet been a final agreement. An effort is going to be made to reach a final agreement next week, and then my hon. Friend will be able to question the Prime Minister about the detail. I simply say to my hon. Friend—she and I differ on the question of EU membership—that the habit of working together within Europe to solve foreign policy challenges that cannot be met by any one European country on its own, not even the biggest and most influential, is a sign of health and a good reason for us to remain members of that organisation.
Turkey, of course, has a pivotal position in all this. If it wanted to, it could make the moves to ensure that we have safe havens in Syria and stop a lot of people entering Europe that way. Equally, it has a very important role in stopping people traffickers. Have the British Government seen actual plans by the Turkish Government on how they intend to stop the people traffickers and stop people travelling across to Greece?
Talks are going on between our enforcement agencies, Frontex and Europol at European level and their Turkish counterparts. The hon. Gentleman will, I know, understand why I would not want to go into detail about those talks. The possibility of safe havens was discussed at the EU-Turkish summit, but there are many political, legal and military complications to taking that particular step. We have not ruled it out, but there is no agreement on it as yet.
Surely the most important thing in all this is to deal with the problem at source—namely, Syria. What discussions were had at this summit with the Turks and the EU about how to put more pressure on all the parties at the Geneva process to make sure that we have a lasting peace agreement in Syria?
Those discussions did take place in the margins of the summit, although its purpose was to try to hammer out a way forward in dealing with the refugee crisis that is causing such difficulties both to Turkey and the European Union. I can assure my hon. Friend that the British Government and other European Governments are in constant contact with our Turkish counterparts about how best to bring an end to the appalling conflict inside Syria.
The Minister must recognise that an adequate humanitarian response must involve more than simply asking Turkey to facilitate mass expulsion under almost a barter scheme between different classes of refugees. Will next week’s European Council meeting properly address the concerns about whether this scheme violates international law and human rights?
This agreement relates to a wider issue of underfunding of refugee camps across the middle east by the international community. What are the Government going to do to reinforce the message from the United Nations that many of our international partners—not the UK; we have done our fair share—are not stepping up to the plate when it comes to the funding of these refugee camps, and that includes many countries within the EU?
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. I think we can trace the surge from Turkey into Europe last summer in large part to the decision that the United Nations had to make to cut food rations and restrict educational opportunities inside the camps, which led more people to feel that they had no option but to place themselves in hands of people traffickers. As I think my hon. Friend will know, the United Kingdom co-hosted a Syria donors conference in London a few weeks ago, which produced pledges from the international community of more than $10 billion. That is a welcome step forward, but I would be the first to say that we must now ensure that those pledges are turned into real money to help the people who are in desperate need.
I absolutely agree that Turkey is a crucial partner in the efforts to resolve the situation in Syria, and that we should be doing more to support what it is doing to deal with the migrant crisis. I must tell the Minister, however, that the largest number of UK citizens of Turkish origin live in north London and in Enfield in particular, the vast majority being Kurdish and/or Alevi, and that they are very concerned about President Erdogan’s refusal to acknowledge the decisions of the constitutional court, about the closing of newspapers, about the imprisonment of more than 30 journalists, about the curfews, about the restrictions on freedom of speech, and about the deaths of many innocent people who are their friends and relatives.
The EU and the accession process may well be the context in which those issues can be resolved—and I support the accession process in relation to Turkey—but can the Minister assure me that they will be raised with President Erdogan, and will not be brushed aside?
The UK raises concerns such as those in its dialogue with the Turkish Government at every level. We recognise that Turkey is in a better place today than it was under military rule, but we want to see our Turkish ally move with greater energy towards the full recognition of the rule of law and human rights to which its Government say they remain committed.
You are very generous, Mr Speaker, and I am very grateful.
May I put it to my right hon. Friend that this is actually a rather grubby deal? We all know that our Government in particular, but the rest of the European Union as well, are desperate to be seen to be trying to resolve the migration crisis. We also know that it is, to some extent, a self-inflicted crisis. The free movement in the Schengen area is a temptation and an attraction to refugees who want to get into the European Union so that they can travel everywhere. The EU’s refusal to close down the Schengen agreement means that it wants to keep that invitation open, so it is doing a very grubby deal with a country that has a very indifferent human rights record to subcontract the deportation of the refugees back to their country of origin.
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention again to what we have given up in this agreement? Let me return to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). The statement of the EU Heads of State of Government says that we are going
“to accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States”.
I do not doubt my right hon. Friend’s sincerity, and I do not doubt that he intends that to apply only to the Schengen area, but will he take care to ensure that it does apply only to the Schengen area in any future drafting of the text of the agreement next week?
First, let me reiterate again that, as yet, there has been no deal. That is a matter for the discussions between now and next week’s European Council meeting.
I am sure that my hon. Friend has studied the European Union treaties intensely, in which case he will know that a measure affecting visas or migration must be introduced on a treaty base on which the United Kingdom is not bound, but can choose whether or not to opt in. As the Prime Minister has made very clear, we are not going to participate in visa liberalisation with Turkey. That is a sovereign decision for us to make, and one that is recognised in the European treaties.
I think most reasonable people would support a mechanism that cuts off the people-trafficking routes and the dangerous routes across the Mediterranean, but what assessment will the Government make when this mechanism is in place to ensure that it is operating as the Minister envisages and that the money reaches the people whom we want it to reach—the refugees?
I share the concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) about the increasingly illiberal and authoritarian approach of Erdogan to, in particular, minorities such as Alevi Kurds, but we must also pay credit where it is due. The refugees are imposing a great burden on Turkey, and its camps are of a much better standard than those in any part of Europe, not least France.
May I ask the Minister a question about the European Union’s move on the liberalisation of visas and the opening of chapters? Will he confirm that, in the negotiations, the European Union will not renege on its commitment to ensure that no progress is made on those two matters before the republic of Cyprus has been recognised, and progress has been made towards a solution to the Cyprus problem?
My hon. Friend hints at one of the issues that have caused a stalling of the accession negotiations in recent years. That, too, will need to be thought about, and talked about, during the days before next week’s European Council meeting. There has been no agreement, as yet, on the opening of any accession chapter.
Is not the logic of the proposals that if Turkey succeeds in stopping sea crossings, no refugees will be resettled from Turkey? Is that not a greater incentive than ever for Turkey to wave people on to the boats, and is it not clearer than ever that a better solution is to provide more safe, legal routes?
That is not the nature of the discussion that we are having with Turkey. I do not want to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but I think it is slightly simplistic to imagine that Turkey can just switch the taps on or off when it comes to flows of people and the activities of people traffickers. That applies particularly to the sea crossing to the island of Samos. Only 1,600 metres separate the Turkish and Greek coasts at that point, so once a dinghy has travelled 800 metres it is in Greek territorial waters. However, I think on Monday there was a clear commitment by both the Prime Minister of Turkey and EU leaders to finding a way forward, and a recognition that it was in the interests of both EU countries and Turkey for the issue to be settled through a coherent, well-planned strategy such as the one that is outlined in the statement issued by the Heads of Government.
Is not the Syrian issue one of the biggest problems that we face today? Has not the Russian action in Syria produced a large new wave of refugees who are leaving that war zone and being pushed into Turkey, and does that not mean that we must do all that we can to work with Turkey?
On 7 March, my right hon. Friend sent a letter to the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, emphasising that a great deal of the money that we are putting in is counting towards our international aid target of 0.7% of GDP. Everything that has been said today about Turkey’s human rights record and about the question of its entering the EU is absolutely right, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that, in the context of both those issues, we have more power and more influence in the EU than we would have if we were outside the EU and carping about it?
We really do have an excellent Minister for Europe. He has been in post for a record number of years and he has always implemented Government policy on Europe, however much it has changed. I hope that he will be there after 23 June when we negotiate our exit from the EU. I want to ask him a question about certainty. Does he agree that the only way in which the British people can be certain that 77 million Turkish citizens will not have the right to come to this country is if we vote to come out of the European Union?
No, no. I am afraid I must urge my hon. Friend to intensify his study of the European treaties and, particularly, the European directives. The treaties make it quite clear that each and every aspect of an accession negotiation, including arrangements for controls on migration, must be agreed unanimously. Every member state, including the United Kingdom, has a veto on every aspect of an accession negotiation. He is making a mistake in imagining that things will happen in the way he describes.
Will the Minister confirm that the majority of those coming into Europe from Turkey are men, and that the majority of them are coming from countries other than Syria that have a very poor human rights record in regard to women? How can we be certain that the mass migration into Europe will not have an impact on women’s rights, which have been hard fought for on this continent?
We have a genuine humanitarian crisis in Syria that has displaced about 11 million people, either within Syria or to neighbouring countries. That is now being exploited by people traffickers—on that point, my hon. Friend is correct. They are trying to encourage people of other nationalities to come in and claim refugee status on the back of genuine refugee claims and genuine refugee need. That reinforces the importance of having a robust system of processing individual claims, so that we can distinguish between people who have a well-founded fear of persecution and those who are trying to move for economic reasons. The reason that the United Kingdom is giving help to Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office is precisely to strengthen the capacity of the Greek system in particular to carry out those processes and to distinguish between genuine refugees and those who are trying to move for other reasons.
It is on everyone’s mind that the bombing of civilians by the Assad regime with Russian support in areas such as Aleppo is leading to the movement of even greater numbers of people, initially into Turkey and Lebanon and then across the Aegean towards Europe. That reinforces the need for us to turn this fragile cessation of violence into a genuine peace process inside Syria and a political transition that might offer the hope of rebuilding the country.
I have been reading the statement, and the Turks clearly have some good negotiators. The Minister has already stated that our financial contribution to the first €3 billion will be €250 million. The statement says that there will be a further decision on additional funding. Will he confirm that, whatever that additional funding might be, we will still be making a further contribution to it?
No formal proposal has been tabled as yet. The United Kingdom contributes to EU measures agreed collectively by the EU, but we have also paid out significantly more through our bilateral contributions to meet the needs of refugees in Syria and other countries in the neighbourhood. I do not think we should be in the least ashamed of this country’s role in helping those people in desperate need. One of the reasons I have been so proud to support this Government’s commitment to the 0.7% UN target is that it gives us the resources and the flexibility to respond to humanitarian crises speedily, wherever in the world they happen to be.
Am I right in assuming that the captain of Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay has rules of interdiction that allow him to report people-smugglers’ vessels going across the straits between Turkey and Greece and to pick up people in distress, but not to stop any such vessels that do not wish to be picked up? If so, will the Minister tell us why that is the case? More to the point, if those rules pertain, what action are the Turkish security forces taking on the eastern seaboard of Turkey, which we are subsidising, to stop people-smugglers’ vessels setting out towards Greece?
Turkey already assigns a large proportion of its coastguard resource to the Aegean. For the reasons that I gave in answer to an earlier question, intercepting every small boat making the relatively short crossing to one of the Greek islands is not as straightforward as is sometimes suggested. For greater detail, I refer my hon. Friend to the statement that the Secretary of State for Defence made in the House on Monday, in which he said:
“The primary purpose of the mission is to provide monitoring, surveillance and reconnaissance of the migration route across the Aegean, which will better enable the Turkish and Greek coastguards”—
and the EU Frontex mission—
“to intercept the boats and disrupt the business model of the criminal traffickers.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 27.]
I was interested to hear the Minister confirm that Britain would not be required to be part of the visa waiver arrangements, given that we are not part of Schengen. However, we are part of another common travel area, with the Republic of Ireland. What discussions will the Government be having with the Republic of Ireland’s Government about their approach to these issues?
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable and important point. Like the United Kingdom, Ireland is not in Schengen and therefore not obliged to participate in any visa liberalisation. We keep in close contact with the authorities in Dublin, because the existence of the common travel area means that we need to ensure that we take account of each other’s decisions on this matter. I do not anticipate any difficulties in this regard—we normally think pretty much alike—but my hon. Friend is right to register that this is an issue that we need to keep in mind.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that access to visa-free travel across Schengen for Turkish citizens might well lead to a large new influx of illegal immigration into Europe that could cause misery across the continent?
No, I do not think that there is necessarily a connection between illegal migration and the movement of people legally under some kind of visa waiver system. The reassurance that I can give my hon. Friend is that, because the United Kingdom is outside Schengen, we can, do, and will continue to impose whatever visa requirements and whatever checks on migration at our ports we consider to be right for the safety, security and wellbeing of the people of the United Kingdom.