Motion to Approve
My Lords, delivering a deal with the EU remains the Government’s priority. We are nevertheless preparing for a range of scenarios.
UK domestic law has given effect to our obligations in the fields of immigration, nationality and asylum arising from our membership of the European Union. The UK has also been subject to directly effective EU law. When we leave the EU, aspects of our legislation and retained direct EU law will fail to operate effectively. They will contain deficiencies if they are not modified or revoked by this instrument.
These regulations make changes to a range of domestic primary and secondary legislation to prevent, remedy or mitigate deficiencies in law arising from the UK’s exit from the EU. They ensure that our statute book operates on exit day if the UK leaves the EU without a deal until new legislation on these issues is commenced.
First, the instrument makes technical changes required to correct wording in our legislation that describes the UK in terms of our membership of the EU or European Economic Area. The changes do not alter the effect of the legislation. Similarly, it also makes technical amendments to domestic legislation that refer to EU rights that are retained by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Secondly, this instrument revokes relevant retained EU legislation relating to immigration. It also revokes a number of instruments which give effect to the UK’s membership of the EU asylum acquis and which will be inoperable on exit. This is because by leaving the EU, the UK also leaves the asylum acquis. The order therefore revokes the Dublin regulation and the Eurodac regulation—that is where I got up to last time.
The instrument makes a number of transitional and saving provisions in relation to the measures being amended by it. This is so that the amendments do not have an inappropriate effect in respect of decisions or other action taken before their commencement.
Finally, this instrument applies the UK rules for criminality to EEA, Swiss and Turkish nationals; the amendment applies only to their conduct after exit. Our intention to apply the same rules to new arrivals, irrespective of the country from which they come, has already been announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
The Government believe that we must plan for every eventuality, including a no- deal scenario. Through introducing this instrument, they are taking practical steps to ensure that the UK statute book operates effectively on exit in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
This instrument will prevent deficiencies in immigration and asylum law arising from the UK leaving the EU. It ensures continuity until the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill allows the Government to introduce the new future borders and immigration system. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee states that the Home Office anticipates that loss of provisions of the Dublin regulations will have a minimal impact on how those seeking asylum in the UK are handled, yet the British Red Cross, which does invaluable work with asylum seekers in the UK, has raised real concerns in its briefing. I propose to raise just one—that which it says concerns it most.
As I understand it, the Government have committed only to maintaining the Dublin III regulation for unaccompanied children. Of course, that is welcome. However, it will leave many who are currently able to use Dublin III’s family reunion provisions excluded. In 2018, of 1,215 Dublin III arrivals, only 159 were unaccompanied children under Article 8, and 869 were wider family reunion cases under Article 9, which allows people who claim asylum in another Dublin member state to join a relative in the UK who has been granted protection. Will the Minister give a commitment that the Government will retain these Dublin protections in our domestic law post Brexit? I believe that this would require an amendment to our family reunion legislation. This would give substance to the Home Office’s assurance that loss of the Dublin provision will have minimal impact—or, in the words of the Explanatory Memorandum,
“a small impact on net asylum transfers”.
If the 2018 pattern continues, we would otherwise be excluding more than 70% of Dublin III arrivals if this commitment is not given. Is this really what the Government intend?
My Lords, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s Sub-Committee A has drawn two issues to the special attention of the House. The first is that there are EU specifications for certain documents, notably the uniform format for biometric residence permits for third-country nationals. The Home Office explained to the sub-committee that the EU is in the process of switching from the current design, the switch to be completed by all member states by the end of 2019, but the UK will not issue the new EU design. In addition to the questions raised by the sub-committee as to whether immigration officials conducting exit checks in foreign countries to establish whether someone has the right to enter the UK before they depart will be notified of such a change, and whether confusion will be created by deviating from the standard EU format, would a potential delay to the UK’s departure from the EU for 12 months or more require the UK to adopt the new EU design despite what is contained in this instrument?
The other issue is the withdrawal of the UK not only from the Dublin regulation but from the Eurodac regulation. Currently, under the Dublin regulation, an asylum seeker must seek asylum in the first safe country arrived in. The Eurodac regulation covers the use and operation of the Eurodac biometric database, which notifies participating member states of a match if a person has been fingerprinted as an asylum seeker in connection with an illegal crossing into a country participating in the Dublin regulation. My understanding is that this instrument makes the necessary legislative changes to acknowledge that the UK will no longer be party either to the Dublin regulation or the Eurodac regulation, as the UK will no longer have access to the mechanism for returning asylum seekers to the first country they arrived in; nor will they be able to establish by fingerprints that they sought asylum in another safe country, as the UK will no longer have access to that database. Will the Minister explain the practical implications of the Home Office’s response to the sub- committee that asylum claims may still be deemed inadmissible to the UK if the claimants have already been recognised as a refugee or could have claimed asylum elsewhere? How, in the absence of the Eurodac database, will the UK establish this?
If EU member states are no longer obliged to accept transfers from the UK under the Dublin regulation, what is the Home Office going to do with those asylum seekers? If by some other means the Home Office determines that an asylum seeker could have claimed asylum elsewhere, or has already been recognised as a refugee elsewhere, they are presumably genuine refugees and so cannot be returned to their country of origin. As the UK will no longer be a member of the Dublin regulation, presumably they cannot be transferred to the EU member state where they first sought asylum either. I eagerly await the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is striking how small a part asylum and resettlement have played in the conversation about a post-Brexit immigration system. Assuming—and praying—that we do not leave without a deal, I hope that discussion of these vital areas will not be limited to the margins of an already limited engagement with the immigration White Paper and the SIs. I have a series of questions for the Minister.
It might just be me, but I often struggle to see evidence of the Home Office applying the family test in SIs and other areas. Can the Minister assure me that the family test has been applied to these SIs? There is potentially a bit of a catch for people who have made an asylum application in an EU member state prior to 29 March, and who might have chosen to use the Dublin process for the purpose of family reunion. For such people, that might fall out if we leave on 29 March. Can the regulations be amended to ensure that, if they have made an application before 29 March, they will be able to use the Dublin process afterwards?
I endorse the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and shall add a couple more. Of the 1,215 people reunited in the UK under the Dublin system in 2018, more than 800 arrived under Article 9, which allows people who claim asylum in another Dublin member state to join a relative in the UK who has been granted international protection. What assessment has the Minister made of how many of those people may have been eligible to be reunited under Part 11 of the UK’s Immigration Rules? Article 9 also allows people in other EU member states to join relatives in the UK who have been granted refugee status. It is concerning that people in these circumstances have had to travel to Europe to reunite, rather than being able to apply for refugee family reunion under the UK’s own Immigration Rules. What plans does the Minister have to improve access to refugee family reunion under Part 11 of the Immigration Rules, including by expanding eligibility and reducing the costs that families face?
I fully accept that we have to withdraw from the Dublin arrangements, but it is about protecting people, as the Government have promised, into the future. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I am grateful to the British Red Cross for its advice on this.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a good point about the continuity of claims that have already commenced. If memory serves, the law enforcement regulations we were discussing earlier make provision for the continuation of cases that have already started. I too am interested in the answer to that question.
When we were discussing the previous SI, several of us were rather struck by the contradiction between the rhetoric about ending free movement and the reality that the Government actually intend to continue it on a one-way basis with no supervision or control whatever, which seems rather perverse. I am also struck by the proposal to pull out of Eurodac and the Dublin regulation, over which I sweated many days, weeks and months as an MEP—but that is neither here nor there.
The Home Secretary made several assertions on this earlier this year—not least when he curtailed his Christmas holiday to come back and deal with what he claimed was the major incident of a few hundred migrants crossing the channel. When addressing the other place on 7 January, he said that the first safe country principle is,
“at the heart of the EU’s own common European asylum system”,
which underpins the 2005 procedures directive and 2004 qualification directive. He went on:
“It is also a principle that underpins the Dublin regulation. The whole point of the Dublin regulation is that if someone has passed through another EU safe country, it is expected that they claim asylum first there”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/1/19; col. 89.]
Both in that speech to the other place and in numerous instances of press coverage, not least in the Daily Telegraph, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the ability of the UK to send back to other EU countries, particularly France, people whom he thought might be designated economic migrants and would not qualify for asylum. How he could know their status in advance is another question. He made a great deal of this ability of the UK to send people back rather than allowing them to seek asylum in Britain. I found another assertion as recent as a few weeks ago; defending his call to declare a major incident in January, he suggested on 21 February on a visit to Dover that,
“those seeking asylum in the UK should have done so in France or elsewhere on the continent”.
A great deal of emphasis has been placed by the Government, particularly the Home Secretary, on the mechanisms of Eurodac and the Dublin regulation. Suddenly, they are going to disappear.
The Government have made some claims about what they hope to put in its place. Indeed, in the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee we are told in Paragraph 8—apparently this was supplementary information supplied to the committee—that the Home Office said:
“We are also mindful of the obligation in section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (family unity for those seeking asylum or other protection in Europe)”.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pointed out, under Section 17 of the EU withdrawal Act this would apply only to children. The Home Office went on to say:
“We currently work bilaterally on returns with France where for example the Sandhurst Treaty, and the subsequent Joint Action Plan, features a mutual commitment to return more migrants to France who have used boats to illegally cross the Channel”.
Could the Minister tell us how the family unity provisions under Section 17 of the EU withdrawal Act will work in the absence of the Dublin regulation? How will the arrangements with France, or with any other member state, work—sending people back whom the UK claims need to direct their claims towards the authorities in an EU state? What is the state of play on any replacement measures? Will we just have a blank space where Eurodac and the Dublin regulation currently exist?
My Lords, this SI makes changes to 21 separate pieces of primary legislation. Again—and this has been a running theme through many of the SIs today—that is just wrong. Can the Minister explain why there is no suitable Bill which this could have formed part of? Can she also explain why the immigration Bill passing through the other place is not a suitable vehicle?
Putting these changes in a Bill would have allowed Members of this House and the other place to scrutinise exactly what they mean for each of these different Acts, and to table amendments if necessary. If we are to be told that these are just technical, that is fine—we get technical matters in legislation all the time and, as noble Lords will know, they are nodded through without any fuss. But it is this House which should take the decision, not the Government, on whether they should be nodded through or not.
I am aware of the concern about how the rules affect individuals. It is sometimes almost impossible for lawyers, judges and Home Office officials to understand the rules and regulations, let alone the average person applying for a visa with or without the help of legal aid. Good parliamentary scrutiny helps to improve legislation, but by bringing these instruments forward in this manner the Government are not allowing themselves the benefits of that, as there are many experts in this House who can help the Government improve what they want to do.
It could also be said that the instrument seems to be overreaching itself. The immigration Bill has not yet completed its parliamentary passage—it has certainly not got to this House. This statutory instrument makes changes for a post-Brexit immigration landscape that is not yet assured.
Finally, as noble Lords have heard before, this statutory instrument revokes the Dublin III regulation, which determines which EU member state is responsible for determining an asylum claim. I accept that leaving the EU will mean leaving Dublin III, but I would have liked continuing co-operation on family reunion, even in a no-deal situation. Dublin III has been a crucial mechanism for reuniting refugee families. As we have heard, in 2018, over 1,000 people were reunited with their family members in the UK under that regulation, including over 150 children. If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, Dublin III will remain in place until the end of the transition period, during which the Government have committed to negotiate reciprocal arrangements on separated children. This should not be so much of a narrow agreement; it should be expanded to include all the family reunion cases allowed under Dublin III.
If we leave without a deal, we will immediately cease to be part of Dublin III, and many refugees will not be able to reunite with their families from 29 March. The UK Immigration Rules make provision for refugee family reunion, but evidential requirements are higher than under the Dublin regulation, and the definition of a “family member” is broader. Therefore I support the calls for the UK’s Immigration Rules to be more generous in family reunion cases. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the points raised.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. By far the biggest area that noble Lords concentrated on was of course the Dublin regulation. The regulation contains rules to establish the criteria and the mechanisms for determining the member state responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the member states by a third-country national or stateless person and the legal framework for returning and accepting asylum seekers to and from the EU. As I said, the instrument ensures that the statute book will continue to function effectively in a no-deal scenario for asylum and provide transitional arrangements.
In the event of a no-deal scenario, retained EU law becomes deficient, and with respect to asylum, the regulations we use to repeal the Dublin regulation and other common European asylum system measures that we are part of—for example, Eurodac, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, and the European Asylum Support Office temporary protection directive—will reflect that we will no longer be part of the acquis. This SI ensures that the statute book will continue to function. However, should the UK leave without a deal, Dublin requests relating to family reunification still pending resolution will continue to be considered under the existing provisions, and that will apply to any take-charge requests that we have received before exit day.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked whether the Dublin regulation will apply in the event of no deal. I will give an example of the numbers we are talking about. Clearly, we will not be a participating state in the Dublin regulation. While this presents a challenge, it also presents in some ways an opportunity to seek new agreements with the EU on asylum which better reflect our position as a third country. Since 2016, we have accepted more Dublin transfers than we have returned to our EU partners. The latest statistics, published in March of this year, show that 209 people were returned to the EU 27 under Dublin in 2018, making up around 5% of the total asylum returns. The Government have committed under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act to seek to negotiate an agreement with the EU that will permit unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to join family members. It would replicate a similar mechanism in the Dublin regulation which would allow children under 18 to join close family members where it is in their best interests.
On returning any individuals under other routes—I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me about that—we will always seek to return those who do not require international protection or have the right to be here in accordance with domestic law. We will continue to make returns to countries where appropriate, and on a case-by-case basis.
Continued co-operation on migration issues is in the shared interests of the UK and the EU. We will work to secure a comprehensive returns agreement with the EU to replace our obligations under Dublin once we leave the EU. If unsuccessful, we will look to work bilaterally with EU member states to strengthen our relationships. For example, we will look to build and strengthen our reciprocal agreements with France as set out in the Sandhurst treaty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about family reunification without Dublin, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. We strongly support the principle of family unity, and there are several routes by which families can be reunited safely. The UK’s family reunion policy is generous, and we continue to reunite refugees with their immediate family, including by granting over 26,000 family reunion visas over the last five years. We are considering the options to ensure effective co-operation on family reunification of asylum seekers after exit. Deal or no deal, Dublin requests relating to family reunification still pending resolution will continue to be considered under the existing provisions, and, as I said, this would apply to any take-charge requests that we received before exit day.
Before the Minister moves on, can I be clear that the Government will look at the broader family reunion position? Can she give us an assurance that the aim will be that there should not be any diminution of rights for family reunion that currently exist under Dublin III?
I can give an absolute assurance to the noble Baroness that those obligations, which we take seriously and have done for decades, will continue to apply in giving people who need it asylum or refuge. That is why I just went through the various channels and resettlement schemes that we have engaged in. It does not diminish our will to give people who need it refuge and asylum in our country.
I shall move on, but I stay on Dublin. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who asked about any other international agreements affecting asylum that would be affected by Brexit.
No, it was not; I am making that up, but I think someone asked it. As a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention and the ECHR, we are committed to continuing to fulfil our responsibility. The UK is part of a number of EU readmission agreements with third countries; we are working to replace a number of them with bilateral agreements.
I think this goes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. Our attitude is not changing towards asylum seekers because of Brexit. She will know, because I have said it before, that in 2017, the UK received the fifth highest number of asylum claims in the EU, and since 2016, we have accepted more Dublin transfers than we have returned, as I referred to earlier. In the year ending June 2017, we resettled more than 16,000 refugees from outside the EU, more than any other EU member state and more than a fifth of all resettlement to the EU. We can also be proud of our leading role in supporting children affected by the migration crisis. Since the start of 2010, the UK has granted more than 51,000 children resettlement, refugee status or alternative forms of protection.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, definitely asked about admissibility, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to it as well. We have always believed that people should be prevented from making claims in more than one country and on multiple occasions. Asylum should always be claimed in the first country that a migrant reaches, as the noble Baroness said. It is vital that our new system does not encourage asylum-seekers who have already reached a safe country to choose to move elsewhere, so we will continue to assess each asylum claim on its individual merits, as set out in the Home Secretary’s Statement to the House on 7 January.
If an individual has travelled through a safe third country and failed to claim asylum, that will be taken into account in assessing the credibility of their claim. This is a widely held principle accepted by the UNHCR, and it is important to send a clear message to smugglers and traffickers and discourage secondary movements. The standards for protection and assistance will in no way be diminished by the UK’s exit from the EU.
On returning asylum-seekers, the UK is attempting to negotiate an ongoing EU-UK readmission agreement which will replace the current Dublin return capability, and this would ideally be underpinned by a biometric system like Eurodac, although clearly it will not be identical to Eurodac. Inadmissibility rules are domestic law and will still be in place regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked why we are using an SI, not the Bill, to legislate. It is important to ensure that the statute book is operable on exit date, especially in a no-deal scenario. As the Bill has just completed its Committee stage in the Commons, we do not expect it to make it in here by 29 March. With that, I hope that I have answered all the questions and I commend the Motion.