Rishi Sunak says progress on bid to access EU intelligence on migrant crisis

The Prime Minister made the remarks as he attended the European Political Community summit in Spain.

Richard Wheeler
Thursday 05 October 2023 22:02 BST
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced bilateral initiatives with Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia (Hollie Adams/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced bilateral initiatives with Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia (Hollie Adams/PA)

The UK is making progress in its bid to secure a deal with the EU’s border agency to get access to the bloc’s intelligence on migration, according to Rishi Sunak.

The Prime Minister said talks are ongoing after it was reported officials in London and Brussels have concluded the substance of the agreement on Frontex.

It would allow domestic agencies to monitor the entirety of the EU’s external borders rather than just shared frontiers, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The apparent development came as Mr Sunak met European leaders at a summit in Granada, Spain, where he announced bilateral initiatives with Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia to increase intelligence-sharing and operational co-operation.

Under the plan, the UK would work with Belgium to try to disrupt organised immigration crime and clandestine entry to Britain and seek to co-operate further with Serbia on prosecuting and disrupting criminal networks.

The Telegraph reported that the Frontex deal would build on these bilateral pacts by deepening the Border Force’s understanding of smuggler routes through Turkey and the western Balkans.

Mr Sunak chaired a meeting at the European Political Community summit with Italy’s hard-right leader Giorgia Meloni, which he said sought to “strengthen European action to ending illegal migration”.

Downing Street said an eight-point plan was agreed by those taking part, including a commitment to “tackle migrant smuggling along the routes and at external borders”, supporting partner countries to “strengthen border protection” as well as search and rescue capacities, and strengthening cooperation on visa policy.

Speaking at the European Political Community (EPC) summit, Mr Sunak told broadcasters: “Tackling illegal migration is a shared European challenge, numbers are up everywhere and I believe, as do other European leaders, that it should be us who decide who comes to our countries and not criminal gangs.

“That’s why I was pleased I could convene a meeting together with the Italian prime minister but also leaders from Albania, the European Union, France and the Netherlands to talk through this issue to see how more we can work together, strengthening our co-operation to combat this awful crime, and there is more that we can do – sharing intelligence, working upstream to disrupt supply chains, working with partner countries to ensure effective returns.”

Asked if there will be an agreement on Frontex, Mr Sunak replied: “We’ve been working with the European Union, making progress on those talks.

“Those talks are ongoing, we’re always looking for ways to strengthen our co-operation with partner countries and entities to combat illegal migration.”

In a joint article for The Times, Mr Sunak and Ms Meloni said they are calling on other countries to “act with the same sense of urgency” to confront the “moral crisis” of criminal gangs “exploiting and profiting from the misery of the vulnerable”.

They wrote: “Only by stopping the flow of illegal migrants can we restore the trust of the British and Italian people, not just in our domestic borders, but in European and international co-operation.

“Only by stopping the flow can we protect our two countries’ historic role as places of asylum and sanctuary. How can we take care of those who really need our help, when our resources are so overstretched?”

They added they are “open to discussing agreements aimed at stopping people departing in the first place” as part of their work with other countries.

Home Office figures show more than 25,000 people have been detected crossing the English Channel in small boats so far this year.

There were 45,774 arrivals in 2022.

The total number of small boat arrivals so far this year is about 23% below the equivalent number at this point last year.

Just over 33,000 people had made the crossing by October 2 2022, compared with 25,330 detected so far in 2023.

Elsewhere, support for Ukraine was discussed at the summit with Mr Sunak confirming allocations of UK humanitarian aid to help the war-torn country over the winter.

The Prime Minister met German chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday, though migration was not mentioned in a readout of their discussions.

“The leaders welcomed the strong partnership between the UK and Germany on issues of shared critical importance to both our countries, from economic growth to energy security and strong defence forces,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The Prime Minister noted Germany’s significant military and humanitarian support to Ukraine, and set out the UK’s plans to support Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive and long-term security and recovery. They welcomed the strong pan-European unity at the EPC on rejecting Russian aggression.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said a Russian rocket has hit a village cafe and store in eastern Ukraine and killed at least 51 civilians in one of the deadliest attacks in months.

Mr Sunak said the pair discussed the “horrific attack” and noted the UK’s support for Ukraine has been “steadfast” and will continue.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “President Zelensky raised ongoing concerns about Russian attacks on grain shipments and commercial vessels in the Black Sea, and the Prime Minister committed to supporting secure routes to ensure vital Ukrainian grain can reach countries in need.”

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