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EU JHA Opt-in Decision: Recasting the Returns Directive

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 31 January 2019

The Government have decided not to opt in (under the UK’s JHA opt-in protocol) to the proposal to recast the returns directive. The proposal is a recast of the returns directive (2008/115/ EC), and sets common standards and procedures to be applied for the return of illegally staying third country nationals to third countries.

The United Kingdom did not opt into the previous version of the directive, adopted in 2008, on the basis that it did not deliver the strong returns regime required by the UK and made the process overly bureaucratic. We believe this continues to be the case though we recognise that the recast seeks to establish clearer returns procedures and includes a number of additional provisions to those set out in the previous version of the directive.

Since the entry into force of the previous directive, the situation of migration in the EU has changed significantly. Member states face significant difficulties in returning illegally staying third country nationals including inconsistent definitions and varying rates of absconding. It is important that the UK acts in the national interest to maximise the return of those with no legal right to be in the country. The UK remains committed to continued engagement and co-operation with the EU on refugee and migration issues, and supports efforts to strengthen EU borders. While the approach led by the Commission may ensure consistency and strengthening of returns processes, it is unclear whether this recast will directly improve efficiency of returns. UK return procedures have continued to be a success in comparison to other EU member states, with strong relationships with third countries and new initiatives such as biometric returns. We remain focused on improving our returns procedures and do not rely on this directive to enact returns of third country nationals. Importantly, the Government are clear that border management is a sovereign issue.

Until the UK leaves the EU we remain a full member, and the Government will continue to consider the application of the UK’s opt-in to EU legislation on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s commitment to protecting and enhancing our ability to control immigration.