Brexit blamed as court ruling leaves UK immigration policy in chaos

Ministers were hauled before MPs to answer an urgent question after the high court ruled that the flagship Illegal Immigration Act does not apply in Northern Ireland

David Maddox
Political editor
Tuesday 14 May 2024 13:55 BST
Belfast MP blames Brexit for migration policy chaos

Brexiteers “should have considered the consequences of their actions” before complaining about a high court ruling which has potentially left UK immigration policy in chaos, a leading Northern Ireland MP has claimed.

Belfast South SDLP MP Claire Hanna’s intervention came as immigration minister Tom Pursglove was answering an urgent question in the Commons on the ruling by the court in Northern Ireland that the Illegal Immigration Act does not apply in that part of the UK.

Mr Pursglove insisted that the government “will appeal the decision” but came under fire from both sides of the House as Tory Brexiteer MPs joined the Opposition in condemning the chaos left in the UK’s immigration system.

There were concerns expressed that a similar challenge on the Safety of Rwanda Act, to allow deportation flights, will also be successful in the Northern Irish high court.

The problems appeared to originate from Rishi Sunak’s much vaunted Windsor Framework Agreement with the EU last year designed to try to resolve the chaotic Irish border problems left by Brexit, which were first warned about during the 2016 Brexit referendum by former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair.

Tom Pursglove answered the urgent question (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA)
Tom Pursglove answered the urgent question (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)

Former cabinet minister David Jones, who is deputy chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory Brexiteers, said: “We were already aware that the Windsor Framework had resulted in a customs border in the Irish Sea. It now appears to be the case if this judgement stands that it has destroyed the ability of the UK government to determine who should remain in our own borders.”

Another hard line Brexiteer, former home secretary Suella Braverman pointed out that the judgement said that Northern Ireland is “effectively to be treated as part of the EU”.

She said: “Isn’t it now patently clear that the Windsor Framework has served to undermine our sovereignty, undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and, I’m afraid, fundamentally failed on its first contact with reality.”

Meanwhile, ERG chairman Mark Francois demanded that Britain goes even further and renegotiates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) asking for a commitment in the Conservative manifesto to do that.

Suella Braverman says the Windsor Framework has failed
Suella Braverman says the Windsor Framework has failed (Getty Images)

He added: “On the Windsor Framework we told you so!”

But while a long line of Brexiteer Tories demanded the Windsor Framework was torn up, Ms Hanna warned that they only had themselves to blame.

She said: “The ECHR isn’t just a key part of the UK’s unwritten constitution it is fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement that is where the commitment to the vindication of rights flows from.

“But, yes, Brexit and the provisions that have followed have underpinned those rights and have allowed for a pursuance of a remedy. Perhaps those who championed the Brexit project might at times better step through the consequences of their actions.”

Immigration minister Tom Pursglove insisted that he did not agree with her comments on Brexit and said that “immigration remains a reserved matter.”

Meanwhile, DUP leader Gavin Robinson said the party’s concerns on the legislation were dismissed.

He said: “The issues that were elucidated yesterday by the High Court and Belfast were fairly and thoroughly explored in this House, and in the other place, during both the passage of the Illegal Migration Act and the Safety of Rwanda act as well.

“When I and my colleagues raised these concerns here in Parliament, we were told by the Government we were wrong. And, yet, the High Court yesterday in Belfast said we were right.”

Mr Robinson asked what steps the Government is taking to secure “a British Isles solution to immigration, outside of the control of the EU”.

Mr Pursglove said the Government intends to appeal against the judgment and would “not be deterred”.

He said: “We’ve consistently made clear that the rights commitments in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should be interpreted as they were always intended and not expanded to cover reserved issues like illegal migration.

“We are also equally clear that immigration is a reserved matter, which has always been applied uniformly across the UK. We do not accept that the Good Friday Agreement should be read so creatively as to extend to matters such as tackling illegal migration, which is a UK-wide issue and not in any way related to the original intention of the Good Friday Agreement.”

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