After an unprecedented increase in the numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and dying in the process, Theresa May has said the EU should start sending them back against their will.
Advocating a tough approach to the migrant crisis that will see the new Tory government already at odds with most European countries, the Home Secretary said that nothing should be done to help migrants “which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys”.
It is estimated that 60,000 have already tried to make the journey on overcrowded ships run by people smugglers, and the UN says more than 1,800 have died – 20 times the number for the same period last year.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will set out plans for a quota system aimed at giving migrants homes across the bloc that has support from France, Germany, Spain and Italy, and will say that “no migrants” stopped at sea should be “sent back against their will”.
But Ms May disagrees. Writing in The Times newspaper, she said she would “resist calls for the mandatory relocation or resettlement of migrants across Europe”, which she said would only help “criminal gangs to keep plying their evil trade”.
The Home Secretary said some migrants made the journey “simply seeking to come for economic reasons”, and that such people should be shipped back once the EU had established what she called “safe landing sites in North Africa”.
Her stance is likely to spark anger across the EU at a time when the incentive to make allies is more imperative than ever. While Juncker’s proposals seem certain to lead to some sort of legislation by the autumn, the UK would not be compelled to take part.
One diplomat told The Times: “The UK can stay out while others take up their responsibilities. That is not going to help Cameron make friends right now.”
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