Tory fury at 'immoral' EU block on deal to return Channel migrants

Tories accuse EU of ‘punishing Britain for Brexit’ by blocking a deal which would allow Britain to send Channel migrants back to France to end deadly crossings

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Tories vented fury at the ‘incompetent and immoral’ EU today after Brussels seemingly ruled out a deal for Channel migrants to be sent back to France.

MPs accused the bloc’s leaders of still being obsessed with punishing Britain for Brexit after leaked records showed a returns agreement had been blocked.

Conservatives argued such a pact was the best way of crippling the deadly people-smuggling operations – and would also end the misery for residents on the French coast.   

The backlash came after the Mail revealed details of a face-to-face meeting between Bjoern Siebert, one of EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen’s closest aides, and the Cabinet Office’s National Security Adviser Sir Tim Barrow.

Mr Siebert made clear during talks earlier this year that there is no prospect of a post-Brexit ‘returns agreement’.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks during the Conservative Party Spring Conference

Mr Sunak, who has vowed to ‘stop the boats’ as one of his five key pledges to voters, said in June that closer European co-operation on border security ‘must be top of the agenda’.

When Britain was in the EU some migrants were returned under the Dublin Agreement, which allowed them to be sent back to safe countries they passed through on their way here. The PM is thought to have been aiming for an improved version of that deal.

But that appears to be off the table, according to the internal British government memo seen by the Daily Mail. 

It says of the EU official: ‘He stressed that the Commission is not open to a UK-EU readmissions agreement.’

Both sides did agree to co-operate on other immigration measures, including moves to combat trafficking gangs, according to the memo – which was sent to a number of government departments. 

Brussels has disputed the version of events set out in the leaked memo. ‘Mr Siebert never said what it is claimed,’ a Commission spokesman said.

Tory former minister Peter Bone told MailOnline Brussels was acting against the interest of many member states.

‘You’ve got the EU letting in hundreds of thousands of migrants from across the world through their borders. A number of them are then passing on through to the UK coming in small boats,’ he said.

‘It seems to me it is entirely their responsibility to look after these people, they have let them in to their European Union.

‘If I was PM when they landed in Dover I would give them a nice cup of tea and put them on the first ferry back to France.

‘The idea they can say ‘we’re not going to do anything about it’ just shows how incompetent and immoral the EU are on this issue, because they are allowing this to happen.

‘If there was a returns policy people wouldn’t risk their lives in the Channel because they would know all that would happen is they go back to where they started from.

‘I think nations within the EU are getting fed up with this and they will rebel. They don’t want the migrants coming in the first place.

‘I think it is another step in the demise of the whole EU, they are completely detached from reality.’

Mr Bone said it was ‘reasonable’ to conclude that Brussels was punishing the UK for leaving the bloc. 

‘There is no other logical reason for doing it,’ he said. ‘If they had a returns framework these crossings would not happen. People would not be clogging up the French ports. It would stop the people-smugglers, it would make life in the French ports so much better.’

Mr Bone also pointed out that the refusal from the EU dealt a massive blow to Labour, which has insisted that a returns agreement is crucial for tackling the Channel migrant issue.

Another ex-minister, David Jones, told MailOnline that the EU’s position was being driven by the French.

‘They don’t want to cooperate, particularly the French. This very French attitude is permeating the whole of the EU. We had the temerity to leave the EU and we must be punished for it.’

‘The French are really not doing enough, bearing in mind that they are getting £500million from us now.’

Mr Jones said the standoff underlined the need for reform of the European Convention on Human Rights, which many Tories believe is preventing illegal migrants from being deported.

‘The government really has got to get a grip on it, it has got to disapply the ECHR in domestic legislation,’ he said.

French ministers insist the European Union’s border arrangements can only be decided by Brussels – something Britain regards as a moot point. 

If Channel migrants cannot be removed to France, the Home Office’s options are limited to sending them to their home nation – which in many cases leads to human rights challenges – or to a safe third country such as Rwanda.

However, the Government’s asylum deal with Rwanda remains in legal limbo after it was declared unlawful on human rights grounds by the Court of Appeal in June.

Rishi Sunak has repeatedly spoken of his desire to secure closer co-operation with Europe on the Channel crisis.

Its refusal to consider a returns agreement intensified pressure from within the Conservative party for Britain to leave the European Human Rights Convention.

MPs on the Right of the party insist the ECHR is the main block on returning migrants to their home nations or to Rwanda.

Conservative backbencher Danny Kruger said: ‘We have now tried legal efforts, technical fixes, and international diplomacy in an attempt to stop the boats within the confines of European human rights law.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrives for an EU Summit

‘If the EU won’t consider a returns agreement, we will have no choice but to take back full control of our legal sovereignty.’

A government source said: ‘The EU can’t even agree a migration deal between themselves so it’s no surprise they aren’t willing to discuss a readmissions agreement with us.

‘Even under the Dublin Agreement we took more people than we sent the other way.’

The involvement of UK National Security Adviser and top diplomat Sir Tim Barrow in the talks demonstrates how Downing Street is throwing every effort at cracking the small boats crisis.

A government spokesman said: ‘We remain open to working with the EU to take forward negotiations on a UK-EU returns deal.’

It is understood that UK ministers still hope a returns deal can be agreed. They believe it would be a key factor in deterring crossings.

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