More refugees would be let in under Tories, says Labour

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Ministers claimed yesterday that Michael Howard's policy on asylum and immigration was unravelling because more than 2,400 would-be refugees a year who are currently turned away by Britain would be allowed in.

Ministers claimed yesterday that Michael Howard's policy on asylum and immigration was unravelling because more than 2,400 would-be refugees a year who are currently turned away by Britain would be allowed in.

The Tories want to opt out of the European Union's common asylum policy but the Government says this would scupper measures introduced last year to stamp out "asylum-shopping" by people from outside the EU. Under the agreement, they are returned to the first EU country they entered, and Britain has been sending back more than 200 people a month.

But the Tories are sticking to their guns. They may try to turn a warning by the European Commission that the party's immigration plans could be illegal under EU law into a wider battle about "who runs Britain".

Mr Howard said yesterday: "It is clear that Tony Blair has been pulling the wool over the British people's eyes. He promised that he would not give up power over asylum to the EU. But ... he has been giving them away by stealth.

"A Conservative government will bring back control over asylum from Brussels to Britain. People will have a clear choice at the next election: unlimited immigration with Mr Blair or controlled immigration with the Conservatives."

Downing Street defended the Government's co-operation with the EU, saying: "The important thing, the priority for this country, was to stop the process of asylum-shopping."

That could only be achieved by a combination of factors, including increased security at British ports, checks abroad and asylum-seekers being processed in the first country they arrived in, which required agreement, said Mr Blair's official spokesman.

A Conservative government would withdraw from the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees to allow the Home Secretary to order the immediate removal of people making "unfounded" claims for asylum. The Commission warned that pulling out would be impossible under EU directives to which Britain has agreed, and that Conservative plans to set a quota of asylum-seekers would also contravene the EU policy.

Downing Street said the 1951 convention had been incorporated into the European Convention on Human Rights, adding: "You cannot unilaterally change the ECHR."

A Conservative spokesman insisted that the party would not withdraw from the positive aspects of the EU agreement. He said: "We will negotiate opt-outs from the directives that stand in the way of our policy. There are measures, such as those on asylum-shopping, that we would want to keep."

John Denham, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, will urge all politicians today to make a positive case for refugees, saying the majority of them share the values of the British people.

Mr Denham will tell the annual meeting of the Refugee Council that Tory plans would reduce Britain to "an isolated country, beyond the fringes of the moral world community".

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