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Asylum Seekers: Deportation from France

Volume 834: debated on Monday 4 December 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have received about the remarks by Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, that his government is prepared to deport asylum seekers deemed dangerous, in breach of rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

My Lords, French policy on asylum is a matter for the French Government. His Majesty’s Government continue to co-operate closely with France to tackle illegal migration and to keep our borders and citizens safe.

I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Does he recall warnings from human rights lawyers and Foreign Office mandarins that if we were to set aside a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights we would become pariahs, along with Russia and Belarus? Is it not passing strange that, when France announced its intention to do so, there was no outcry? Since 14 November, when it refouled an Uzbek refugee to his homeland despite the court ruling it illegal, risking torture and death, the whole liberal establishment, from the BBC to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—

—and the SDP—has been as silent as mice. Is there one rule for our friends in Europe and another for Britain?

My Lords, I think it would be wise for me to restate what the Prime Minister has said, which is that he is taking

“the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation”.

He made that point on 15 November. He went on to say that he does not believe that

“anyone thinks the founding aim of the European Convention on Human Rights was to stop a sovereign Parliament removing illegal migrants to a country deemed to be safe in Parliamentary statute and binding international law. I do not believe we are alone in that interpretation”.

So I say to my noble friend that I look forward to informed discussion on the recent French decision.

My Lords, I have a simple question for the Minister: have either the new Home Secretary or the new Foreign Secretary met the French Interior Minister?

My Lords, in the event that the Government decide to derogate from any part of the convention, would Ministers agree to publish in advance, before doing so, a paper identifying which of our international obligations might be impacted by such a decision?

My Lords, I cannot anticipate what may or may not be in the Bill. Obviously, the Bill will be presented to Parliament in the usual way.

My Lords, what consideration has the Minister given to the views of the same Interior Minister from France that consideration will be given to giving legal status to undocumented people working in sectors with labour shortages? If the Minister were to give consideration effectively to that matter, surely that would help our relationships with the French Government and everything in the immigration system beyond.

I refer the noble Lord to my earlier Answer. I am not going to speculate on or discuss what the French legal system and the French Interior Minister decide about their own domestic policy.

My Lords, deciding whether an asylum seeker is dangerous is subjective. Does the Minister agree that our system is less discriminatory in treating all asylum seekers as a lesser form of life?

My Lords, can the Minister give the House an absolute assurance that the Government will never consider making a decision that would be in breach of a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights?

As I said earlier, I am not going to speculate as to what will be in future legislation. That will be presented to Parliament in the fullness of time.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that we on this side are the establishment while the anti-establishment are the poor people who are stuck in government with only the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, GB News and a few others to help them, battling against a profoundly demoralising liberal consensus that somehow they do not seem able to break?

I rather agree with Michel Barnier, with whom I imagine the noble Lord sympathises quite a lot, who said:

“You can find nothing in the French constitution about migration, and there is almost nothing in the European treaties. For 30 or 40 years, there’s a kind of interpretation that is always in favour of the migrants … We have to rewrite something in the … treaties or in”

the European Convention on Human Rights. Is he wrong?

My Lords, has my noble friend seen the reports in the newspapers that civil servants in the Home Office are deciding that they cannot comply with Ministers’ policy declarations because they are in breach of the Civil Service Code? Is this not a rather alarming development, if true, and can my noble friend tell us exactly what is going on in the Home Office?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the recent decision of the Supreme Court is a decision of a domestic court, not a foreign one? Does he also agree that its rationale was predominantly based on not the European convention but the refugee convention and various domestic statutes?

My Lords, would it not make much more sense if we talked to the French a little more about processing applicants in France, rather than all this rubbish talk about Rwanda?

My noble friend raises this subject fairly frequently. In March, the Prime Minister and President Macron agreed the largest-ever deal with France to tackle small boat crossings, building on our existing co-operation. As a result of this deal, we have seen a significant uplift of personnel deployed to tackle small boats across northern France and the procurement of new, cutting-edge surveillance technologies and equipment to detect and respond to crossing attempts. So far, over the last calendar year, those efforts—as I have said many times from the Dispatch Box—have stopped, I think, 22,000 attempted crossings. It is probably more by now.

My Lords, the Minister perhaps used the wrong word when he told the House that Monsieur Darmanin had made a decision. He expressed a view; there is in fact a Bill going through the French Parliament at the moment on immigration, and presumably a great deal will depend on what that says.

My Lords, the information I have, which comes from a newspaper report in Le Monde, is that on 14 November the French deported a 39 year-old Uzbek international, even though the ECHR had ruled against it. They did so without waiting for the administrative courts to rule on the case.

My Lords, can the Minister assist me? I heard on the “Today” programme this morning that one thing being considered by government—I am not asking him to guess what might be in forthcoming legislation—is that the UK would send to Rwanda people to process the applications and consider their legality, and that if the decision was not to grant asylum, the individuals concerned would be returned to the UK. Why would we waste all that money on airfares if we are simply saying that we will process people but in another country?