Britain is set to lose its power to send asylum seekers back to other EU countries after the Brexit transition period ends, throwing the government’s immigration policy into disarray.
EU negotiators have reportedly rejected UK requests for a new agreement to replicate the Dublin Regulation, which binds EU member states to process certain asylum claims at the request of their neighbours.
The provision is used regularly by the UK to turn back refugees arriving on the south coast after travelling overland through France and other European countries.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is expected on Friday to elaborate on the situation, which has moved into the spotlight after an uptick in the number of dinghies landing on the Kent coast in recent months.
Under the current system, certain asylum seekers can be returned to the member state where they first entered the EU even if they claimed asylum in another country such as the UK.
The Guardian reports that this provision, which is continuing through the transition period, is now very unlikely to be extended, with Brussels rejecting demands for a similar agreement to be put in place after Brexit.
When approached by The Independent, the European Commission declined to comment on the situation in talks, which it said were ongoing, but an official reiterated that the UK would leave the Dublin Regulation when the transition period ends at the end of 2020.
EU officials also stressed that Mr Barnier’s negotiating mandate does not cover asylum matters.
The EU has long sought to reform the Dublin Regulation, which is widely seen as unfair to such countries as Greece and Italy, where people crossing the Mediterranean tend to land first, as a matter of geography.
Political deadlock on the issue at EU level means the regulations remain in place for now, but EU member states are understood to see Brexit as an opportunity to encourage the UK to take its fair share of people fleeing conflict and disaster.
The Dublin Regulation does not restrict where a person can actually claim asylum, or make their attempt illegal – rather, it determines the country that will ultimately process their claim.
The UK’s obligations under the refugee convention mean that it must allow asylum claims from people who arrive on its shores. It is illegal under UK domestic law to enter British territory without permission, but crown prosecutors take into account a person’s status as an asylum seeker when deciding whether to charge them with an offence.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, said last week that she could send in the royal navy to intercept boats arriving in Britain, after the leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, accused a group of people arriving on a Kent beach of an “invasion”.
The Independent reported this week that the UK is pushing ahead with the deportation of asylum seekers arriving in boats, with France and Spain seen as viable return countries.