Friday 3 May 2024

Brexit border bewilderment

I don’t suppose that there is much political interest today in anything but the local election results, about which I’ll say nothing here except that anything now happening to the Tory Party is inextricably, even when indirectly, bound up with Brexit.  And, as the length of today’s post testifies, it’s not as if there is any lack of other Brexit news to discuss. Much of that news concerns, in different ways, the issue which both defines and bedevils Brexit: borders.

Early in the Brexit process, I wrote a post on ‘why Brexiters don’t understand borders’, which touched on some of the topics which will feature in today’s post, and it concluded as follows:

“I referred earlier to a very good article in the Daily Telegraph [by Peter Foster] on the implications of Brexit for Ireland and Northern Ireland and, within it, there is a revealing sentence from an unnamed British civil servant working on Brexit: ‘It seems as if every day something new we hadn’t thought of comes up’. That could almost be the strapline (and perhaps will be the epitaph) for Brexit. At every stage in the debate, Brexiters insist that it will be easy and that those who say otherwise are doom mongers; but every time those claims meet reality there turns out to be far more complexity than Brexiters believed (or at least than they told the electorate). Borders and what they mean are perhaps central to the Brexiter mindset: it is to say the least unfortunate that they don’t understand them. It is doubly unfortunate that we are all going to have to pay a very high price for their enlightenment.”

That was written in March 2017, but it is a suitable introduction to this week’s main Brexit developments.

Bordering on the ridiculous

The ongoing saga of the introduction of import controls reached a key moment on Tuesday, when the latest phase of controls came into force – except for those which didn’t, and for those hauliers who were waived through even when they had non-compliant paperwork, and for those consignments requiring the attention of inspectors who clock off between 7pm and 7am – further adding to the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the process. I’ve discussed this exhaustively, or at least exhaustingly, for years now, most recently in last week’s post, but it is still a notable moment not least because it has brought an upsurge in media attention, including reports in the Mail, on the BBC, and a particularly hard-hitting item on ITV News, as well as questions from MPs.

Amongst these media reports, an especially informative one came from Ellen Milligan of Bloomberg because it focused on the impact of the controls upon EU exporters, taking the important example of Danish bacon exports to Britain, tracing them from pig farm to arrival at the port of Immingham on the east coast of England. This was proper, detailed reporting getting, almost literally, out into the field, and it exposed the sheer bureaucratic complexity and cost Brexit has imposed on EU firms exporting to Britain (which, of course, has a mirror image for British firms exporting to the EU). In the process, it illustrated why smaller firms simply cease to engage in such trade. A report covering similar themes, but considering the case of Polish exporters appeared in The Times (£).

Counting costs

Apart from being informative in their own right, these articles were a useful addition to the bulk of the reporting, which was more focused on the UK importers, who also bear some of the new burdens, such as having to pre-notify and declare imports. Quite what all these costs amount to is a matter of dispute. The ITV report commissioned expert analysis suggesting a figure of £2.9 billion per annum, whereas the government claims it is only £330 million. A discrepancy of that magnitude suggests that totally different methodologies are being used, but since neither figure has any published details of how it was arrived at it is impossible to judge. However, Dr Anna Jerzewska, a leading international expert on trade and customs, was asked to provide an independent evaluation of the analysis underlying ITV’s figure, and stated it to be “robust”.

One yardstick by which to judge the government’s figure is that the Times report quoted the extra costs to just one Polish haulier of fresh poultry to the UK as being in the region of £1 million to £1.5 million per year. If correct, that makes the figure of £330 million a year for the total cost inherently implausible and, whilst of course I cannot prove this, I suspect that it is based only on the direct costs to UK importers. And whilst it is impossible to know without seeing the government’s – specifically DEFRA’s – calculations, it would not be unduly cynical to think that it has chosen a methodology to downplay the costs. Apart from anything else, if the costs really are so small, then what is the justification for the repeated delays in implementing the controls?

Mounting risks

It's true that there may be other answers to that question, in addition to cost, with one possibility being a desire to avoid the bad publicity for Brexit of border queues. But whatever the answers are, the delays demonstrate irresponsibility, given that the Department for Environment, Food and the Rural Affairs (DEFRA)  itself is saying (accurately) that “a robust and proportionate border regime is vital to ensure we can protect our food system against biosecurity threats” and that “these border checks are fundamental to protecting the UK’s food supply chain, farmers and natural environment against costly diseases reaching our shores.” What, then, of the continuing elevation of the risk of those threats from the ongoing delays in implementing the border regime?

Indeed, there is much disingenuity in the entire way the government is presenting this issue (just as there is in the way that Kemi Badenoch presented the latest trade figures this week). The DEFRA announcement just referred to includes another example, suggesting that the new regime represents a “saving” because it is (supposedly) cheaper than the original plan for the post-Brexit regime. Perhaps so, but it still represents a cost of Brexit. That fact is also continually smudged when the government (and some media reports) imply that all this is not so much about Brexit as about the government’s decision to develop an entirely new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) for imported goods, for reasons of bio-security policy.

This misleading implication is possible because it is true that the BTOM is designed to cover imports from the whole of the world, not just from the EU, and in that sense has elements which are not directly to do with Brexit. However, it would not need to include EU imports (or not to anything remotely like the same extent) had it not been for Brexit, and it is highly unlikely that, but for Brexit, the BTOM would have been introduced for rest of world imports. For, despite much misunderstanding, some of it apparently wilful, along the lines that there is no reason why imports from the EU should be any riskier now than when Britain was a member of the single market, this is not so. The government is introducing controls on EU imports, albeit far too slowly, not for the fun of it but because they are now necessary for such imports, just as they have always been for non-EU imports.

What happens now?

This story still has some way to run. Not only is this phase of controls not yet fully operational, but there are new phases coming in October, and still more next year, including the introduction of import controls on goods from Ireland. Equally, there is a time lag between controls at the borders and the knock-on effects on the viability of businesses, prices, and product availability on the shelves. More in future posts, no doubt.

Border bafflement

Meanwhile, borders also feature in another of this week’s big news stories, the row between the UK and Ireland over asylum seekers. I don’t think that in all the years I have been writing about Brexit, I’ve ever come across an issue so convoluted and difficult to unpick, especially as the story was still unfolding whilst I wrote this post. As a result, I’m still not sure if I have got the details right, and (as always, in fact) I’m more than open to correction.

Initial reports suggested that the Irish government intended to pass a law so as to be able to return asylum seekers who are entering Ireland via Northern Ireland (NI), to the extent of accounting for 80% of “recent arrivals” of such asylum seekers (ASs) in Ireland, although this figure has subsequently been questioned. Moreover, it was held that the reason this was happening was the British government’s ‘Rwanda policy’. The political context of Ireland’s announcement is the increasingly violent far right anti-immigration and anti-asylum seeker protest movement, so it can be read an attempt to appease this, rather as Britain’s Rwanda policy is an attempt to appease similar movements and political pressures in the UK.

It has been questioned whether the Rwanda policy is what is driving any increase there may be of ASs moving to Ireland via NI. Clarity is not aided by the British government’s contradictory response, with, on the one hand, a Downing Street spokesperson saying “it is too early to jump to conclusions” about whether the Rwanda policy was having this effect whilst, on the other hand, Rishi Sunak implicitly endorsed the claim that it was by saying that it shows the policy is already “working as a deterrent”. Those things can’t both be true. Moreover, if there is such an increase, whatever the cause, then unless, I’ve missed them, there is no reporting on how this is happening. Presumably it would entail ASs arriving in Great Britain and making their way to Cairnryan in Scotland and thence by ferry to Larne (which, as I understand it, requires passengers to provide photo ID). But, if so, there would surely be reports of large numbers of them doing this?

An additional complexity is understanding just what it is that the proposed Irish legislation would do. The early reports seemed to suggest it would mean legislating to deport the relevant ASs to the UK, However, it quickly emerged that Ireland’s plan was actually to legislate that Britain is a “safe third country” to which ASs can be returned in the face of a recent Irish High Court ruling to the contrary (this ruling was not, however, because of the UK’s Rwanda policy).

Whatever form any eventual Irish legislation takes, it is not obvious what would follow. On the face of it, deporting ASs who had arrived via the UK back into the UK would be no more feasible or legal than the idiotic claims by hard line Brexiters that ASs arriving in Britain from France could simply be returned en masse to France. One such is Richard Tice of Reform UK, who – like a schoolboy boasting to his friends that he has a wonderful girlfriend, but they wouldn’t know her ‘as she goes to a different school’ – insisted this week that he has ‘advice from his own lawyers’ saying this would be legal. It is an irony, though, given those claims, that the Brexiters have been so outraged by suggestions that Ireland might apply the same approach to Britain that they want to apply to France.

Agreement, what Agreement?

At all events, Sunak has unequivocally rejected the idea of any agreement to take ASs back from Ireland, at least unless the EU agreed that the UK could return ASs to France. However, this is where things get particularly opaque, because politicians, not least the Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris, and many media reports have spoken of an already existing post-Brexit bi-lateral agreement under which such returns are possible, and Sunak seems to accept there are ‘operational arrangements’, albeit no legal obligation (£), to effect returns. The agreement referred to appears to be related to the operation of the Common Travel Area (CTA), the system, going back to 1923, although with some intermissions, whereby there is freedom of movement for British and Irish citizens across and throughout both jurisdictions.

However, despite all the references to it, no one seems to be clear about what this asylum deal actually is. The continuation of the CTA after Brexit was affirmed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the British and Irish governments, created in May 2019 and it seems possible that this is the agreement in question, although it says nothing specific about asylum seekers [1]. It also doesn’t tally with the 2020 date given in media reports for the MoU, and although there was a CTA MoU in that year it related specifically to healthcare. The 2020 Withdrawal Agreement also makes reference, in the Northern Ireland Protocol, to the maintenance of the CTA, but again does not seem to suggest any specific agreement on asylum returns, and anyway anything that was in this Agreement would, unlike a MoU, be legally binding on the UK.

On social media, attention has also been drawn to an unsourced fragment of text which refers to the two countries facilitating the return of individuals to “their country of origin” if they have entered the CTA unlawfully. A lot of digging reveals that the source of this is a still operative, but pre-Brexit, 2011 Joint Statement by the two governments about securing the CTA’s external border, which relates in turn to the somewhat secretive and still ongoing joint Operation Gull programme which serves that purpose [2]. However, this doesn’t mean returning such individuals to the country within the CTA from which they came, it means (potentially) the country from which they originated, and it certainly isn’t the post-Brexit agreement Harris and others appear to have in mind.

Nevertheless, to the extent that there is CTA dimension to this, which is to say a specifically UK-Ireland agreement, and even more if there has been a specific post-Brexit agreement relating to asylum returns, then the parallels between UK-France or UK-EU arrangements do not hold.

Brexit aspects

So here Brexit begins to enter the story more explicitly, albeit in complicated ways. One aspect is that, pre-Brexit, the Dublin III regulations enabled, in some though by no means all cases, Ireland to return ASs to the UK (and vice versa) if that was where they had made their first application for asylum. And this indeed happened. According to Bernard Ryan, Professor of Migration Law at Leicester University, in the period 2008-2014, the UK made 1334 such requests to Ireland, resulting in 753 transfers of persons, and Ireland made 815 requests to the UK, resulting in 357 transfers. However, post-Brexit, the UK is no longer a part of the Dublin regulations (a side-issue here is that these regulations are themselves in the process of change).

Amid much confusion in media reports and social media discussions this week, Law professors Colin Murray and Steve Peers produced an excellent detailed briefing on the current legal situation. What it revealed is a complex hodge-podge of EU law, Irish law, UK law, the particular post-Brexit provisions for NI, and, indeed, the provisions, both legal and customary, of the CTA. It is well worth reading in full, but on my interpretation (which I stress again is highly tentative) there is nothing here which, in any ordinary meaning of the term, constitutes an agreement, whether relating to the CTA or not, whereby ASs arriving in Ireland from the UK can simply be returned.

Instead, as Murray and Peers put it: “Amid the tangle [of] post-Brexit arrangements, both countries appear to be talking at cross purposes”, a situation not helped by the “low trust context” which militates against them “engaging with each other in the close collaborative relationship that the CTA requires”. They don’t say it explicitly, but I assume they mean by that the context created by Brexit and the manner it was undertaken.

A second aspect is that several Brexiters have responded to the current row (£) by suggesting that it somehow means that Ireland and the EU are reaping the results of having insisted during the Brexit negotiations that there could be no land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and specifically no checks on people moving between the two jurisdictions by virtue of the CTA. They are also suggesting that Ireland is about to install such a border, though this is based on what would seem to be a misunderstanding of a report that the Irish government has deployed extra police on “frontline” duties of prevention and deportation.

Undoubtedly those now claiming a ‘gotcha’ moment (£) are those who have never understood or accepted that the Good Friday Agreement effectively precludes such a border. In any case, they are now missing the rather crucial fact that it was British Brexiters, more than anyone else, who had been adamant that the CTA would continue and, moreover, that this was their supposedly definitive rebuttal of the ‘Project Fear’ warnings issued by Tony Blair, John Major, and others, about what Brexit would mean for the Irish border.

How did we get here?

Most notably, this was the position of Boris Johnson and of the then Northern Ireland Secretary (and keen Brexiter) Theresa Villiers. It was a position founded on ignorance, to the extent that, as the Brexiters (or, at least, the ones who had to take responsibility for enacting Brexit) gradually came to grasp, the issue about the border was not just about the movement of people but also the movement of goods and livestock, and the various processes and checks needed (the same, indeed, as with the GB-EU border controls discussed above). Hence, by a long and slow route, we ended up with the Irish Sea border, with all that that has meant, including the Windsor Framework.

Along the way, discussion of the free movement of people across the island of Ireland became curiously muted. Amongst the pre-referendum warnings of the remain campaign, Major and Blair had highlighted not just the matter of customs controls but that of immigration from the EU. For example, Blair said that if there were no immigration controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland then: “It would make a nonsense of their entire argument for leaving which is all to do with the free movement of people in the European Union.”

At stake was that if there were no border checks then what would stop someone coming to Ireland quite legally from any EU country, under freedom of movement rights, then entering the UK via Northern Ireland and living or working illegally? I was not alone in thinking, in the early days of the Brexit process, that this was going to be a major question. Indeed, at that time, the government itself mooted the idea of moving frontline UK immigration controls to Ireland’s ports and airports (no one seemed to give any consideration at all to the possibility of movement in the other direction, from the UK to Ireland, whether that be of ASs or non-EU nationals residing legally in the UK).

In the event, whereas customs and other controls on goods were located across the Irish Sea, the issue of illegal immigrants from the EU was left to detection when in situ by landlords, employers, banks etc., and surprisingly little has been heard of it since. The only time it has become a matter of much public debate was not in relation to EU nationals or to asylum seekers but when it was raised in 2022, by the then British Home Secretary Priti Patel, in relation to Ukrainian refugees accepted by Ireland potentially entering the UK through ‘the back door’, under cover of the CTA. However, I’m not aware of any evidence that this actually happened, or if it did then to any great extent, nor of there being any talk at that time of a ‘returns agreement’. And so things rested until the last week or so.

What happens now?

How this current row will play out remains to be seen. Some reports have suggested that the two governments are keen to dial-down a dispute which has been “escalated out of all proportion”. I am not so sure. It arises out of what, in both countries (as in many others), is an extremely toxic politics around immigration in general, and asylum in particular, which many politicians are all too ready to exploit and exacerbate, especially with both countries facing general elections in the next twelve months.

Not the least of that toxicity is the wholly repellent dehumanization of ASs as some sort of malign parcel to be passed from country to country to ‘deal with’ or worse, according to the depraved comments of Reform’s Deputy Chair Ben Habib, left to drown. Habib later tetchily claimed to have been misrepresented, but his comments, which seemed to shock even the Talk TV shock-jock Julia Hartley-Brewer who conducted the interview, are on the public record for people to judge for themselves.

Whatever the challenges they may pose, these are people, including people broken and traumatized by suffering. And if it should be that some are ‘economic migrants’, whose asylum claims are not valid, well, they are still people and, very likely, people who have become economic migrants as a result of great hardship. Either way, they should have their claims processed quickly and fairly. Doing so does, indeed, pose challenges, as does the successful support and integration of those whose claims are found to be valid. The way to deal with those challenges can only be through concerted global action, both as regards the organization of asylum claims and destinations and as regards the multiple root causes of the need for asylum-seeking. That isn’t easy, to say the least, but it is emphatically made more difficult by nationalism and xenophobia.

This is clearly a bigger issue than the EU and Brexit, and it can hardly be said that the EU or its member states are paragons of virtue (one of the silliest of Brexiter ideas is that those who oppose Brexit see the EU, in this or any respect, as some kind of nirvana or, conversely, that its failure to be perfect in every respect is a good reason not to belong to it). But it is at least an attempt to address asylum collectively in at least one segment of the globe. One of the follies of Brexit is that it has absented the UK from this attempt, whilst another is the antagonism and mistrust it has brought to Anglo-Irish relations. By no means all the costs of Brexit, and perhaps not even the greatest costs of Brexit, are economic.



[1] The 2019 MoU was drawn up at a time when a ‘no-deal Brexit’ (i.e. no Withdrawal Agreement) was possible, and I wonder if the references to 2020 are because, in effect, its provisions became duplicated by the Withdrawal Agreement/ Protocol. If it should emerge that there was a MoU about asylum returns, separate to the Withdrawal Agreement, then Sunak would be right to say that it was not binding in international law, but to renege on such a MoU, relating as it would to NI, would surely have very severe reputational consequences and damage relations with Ireland, the EU, and the US.

[2] The secrecy about this arises, I assume, not because of the asylum issue but because of the still existent NI terrorism threat.

There will be no post next Friday


  1. Moin moin Chris ☕
    Typo re: Tice, "they wouldn’t know **here** ‘as she goes to a different school"

    1. Another very cogent, if not uplifting, account of current events. It is very tempting to say that this particular consequence of the Rwanda policy was foreseen by nobody. However it has been seized upon with glee by the policy’s proponents. Cynics might say that this was part of the plan from the start. After all no sane person would claim that the policy could have a measurable deterrent effect on arrivals. It could however give HMG a new and effective mechanism for offshoring new “migrants”. This to a country with very limited capacity which has already accepted more displaced people per capita than the UK.

  2. "Whatever the challenges they may pose, these are people, including people broken and traumatized by suffering. And if it should be that some are ‘economic migrants’, whose asylum claims are not valid, well, they are still people and, very likely, people who have become economic migrants as a result of great hardship."

    We really do need to grasp who and what these people are, who they are being used by, and understand that in a Europe - including the UK - where there are millions - approximately 60,000,000 - of our fellow Europeans who are either unemployed, or living at or beneath the poverty line due to under-employment, allowing economic migrants on the off-chance that they might share our noble ideals on society rather than just be turning up for what they can get is a luxury we cannot afford.

    Yes, we can be pious and ignore that back in the days of Merkel inviting all comers, a leaked Frontex report revealed that less than 30% of people arriving had even a tenuous case for asylum, but doing so is simply doing the work of those who want to unravel the European Union and modern Western democracy for them.

    The vast majority of arrivals are enabled and financed by actors financed directly and indirectly by Putin, as is the media that stirs the pot on the situation, and it's time that people woke up to that fact. The same set of tactics that worked to detach the UK from the EU will now be - and already are - being unleashed on Ireland as the next weakest link.

    Brexit should have taught us that it isn't enough to smirk at "the gammon" and belittle their point of view on this subject, or to kid ourselves that "most" people arriving are escaping some wickedness that only "we" can solve.
    It patently isn't true: most just want a better life, and if them getting that involves a European losing their job, or not being employed in the first place, you can guarantee they won't give a monkeys.
    But the unemployed and under-employed European, and their friends and family will - and they should be given *at least* as much sympathy as the migrant, and their views heard and not dismissed or ridiculed as "racism", however ineptly they may express themselves.

    The lesson of Brexit *must* - finally - sink in: it is all well and good to want the best for everyone in the world, but not at the expense of having our societies undermined.
    Instead, we need to accept that the vast majority of these people are not genuine refugees or asylum seekers, but are in fact paying (relatively) large amounts of money to criminal organisations backed and enabled by Putin in order to directly and indirectly destroy public faith in the institutions of democracy in European democracies.

    It's a tough choice:
    do you want to allow these people the benefit of the doubt and allow them in, even while knowing that the vast majority of them are only arriving to sate their own greed, and even while knowing that they have used criminal means to arrive, and even while knowing that by allowing them to stay makes a rod for the backs of the societies and values we're rightly proud of, and enables those societies to be undermined and eaten away from within?

    Or do we need to be honest, and arrive at a humane means of returning those who are in any way shape or form economic migrants to a country outside of the EU?

    I am not for one moment supporting the UK Governments Rwanda policy, because it is a vapid PR exercise and nothing more, but the fact remains that unless the problem is tackled by the swift removal of those unable to prove refugee status, the pit is bottomless, as is the ability of criminals to exploit our weakness, and Putin to undermine our liberal secular democracies.

    So there it is, that stark choice: do you want to protect the liberal society you hold dear, or do you want to aid in it's ultimate dislocation and destruction, as has happened with Brexit in the UK?
    If it's the latter, then we need only to continue the mistakes of the past decade on "refugees" and the past two decades on immigration in general.

    1. I went on to say, just after the bit you quoted, that there needs to a be a quick and fair assessment of whether or not there is a valid asylum claim.

    2. Yes, you did Chris, but my feeling is that there is a tendency to want to treat all arriving souls as Asylum Seekers Until Proved Otherwise, rather than accept that it has been proven time and time again since Merkel's Dummheit that the vast majority have zero claim to be refugees or due asylum, and that this attitude is simply grist to the mill for those using the situation to spread dis-chord and division.

      An acceptance that the vast majority are not in mortal fear of anything except not enjoying a European lifestyle would have cut the likes of Farage off at the knees in the lead up to Brexit, and will do the same to actors like Le pen et al in other countries.
      Yet, we seem to be hell bent on repeating the same missteps with regard to Ireland?

      My question is, what is more important? Maintaining societal and European Union cohesion, or the "rights" of people who not only provably in most cases have no rights, because they have chosen to try and circumvent our immigration rules for their own enrichment, but who's continued feting aids not only the likes of Farage, Tice and the far right in general, but also Putin's strategy of destabilising and disuniting Europe.

    3. "So there it is, that stark choice: do you want to protect the liberal society you hold dear, or do you want to aid in it's ultimate dislocation and destruction, as has happened with Brexit in the UK?"

      By the way Chris, the above is not aimed at you. If I'd been better edumacated, I would have used "does one" rather than "do you", but I'm stuck with being an "incomprehensible"

    4. The elephant in the room here is the ageing population across western societies. We don't want economic migrants, but we want taxpayers and national insurance contributors. Doctors and nurses are on the run. What is the choice?

    5. "The lesson of Brexit *must* - finally - sink in"
      I can only assume you're a new visitor to Chris's blog, because he has indeed been spelling out the many and various disastrous "lessons" of Brexit for several years now in precise and forensic language which has greatly clarified my own understanding of it all.
      None of them, however, remotely pertain to your not at all persuasive case for action - which you don't in any case specify - against people arriving on boats in S England.
      You may care to note that people claiming asylum are not arriving illegally under international law.

    6. "The elephant in the room here is the ageing population across western societies"

      Please try and think logically rather than come out with the usual tropes:
      We are fitter, and in better health, to a far greater age than previous generations.
      The level of mechanisation and automation in the workplace is enormous compared to even a generation ago, when it might eg, take a gang of men a week to dig the footings for a house, today it takes one man with a specialised digger a day and a half.
      There is no full, or even nearly full employment - instead, there are surpluses of labour across the EU. Countries like Bulgaria are dirt-poor and yet have skilled and talented people unable to find work.
      Some governments recognise these points, such as Germany, where there are no restrictions or penalties when someone continues to work after retirement.
      They remain a valuable source of skills and experience, rather than being scrap-heaped in favour of someone who can probably barely speak the language, let alone match the retirees skillset.

    7. It's simply not true that "the vast majority have zero claim to be refugees or due asylum" as regards UK, at least. The stats vary from year to year, but in recent times it has been about 50/50 (taking into account those who successfully appeal against an initial decision) between those accepted and those not, and as those not includes those who withdraw applications it can't be said with certainty whether or not they had a valid claim. Sorry, I don't buy all this 'destruction of liberal society stuff' and, frankly, far from being a way of cutting the far right off at the knees it simply repeats their analysis. If UK has got into a mess over this, it's primarily because the HO have failed to create a quick and accurate processing system (potentially via overseas application centres), and it would have been much wiser to throw a shedload of resources and admin effort at that rather than all this stuff about barges and Rwanda. Source for the stats: table on p14 of this: (sorry that html links aren't clickable on this interface).

    8. It would be just like the West to spend hundreds of years colonizing and interfering with the politics of other nations in ways that create the conditions leading to these economic migrants, but then to say, "Well, you can't come over here, you might well ruin the fabric of our society!" I suppose those governments should have considered this before beginning - and continuing to this day - to insert themselves into the political and economic affairs of these nations.

    9. "Sorry, I don't buy all this 'destruction of liberal society stuff' and, frankly, far from being a way of cutting the far right off at the knees it simply repeats their analysis"

      Sometimes, your enemy is right. Sometimes, it is better to listen than to dismiss. Sometimes, it is wiser to be morally right but allow a point of view you disagree with.
      If Labour and the Conservatives had managed immigration, and in particular EU FoM Migrancy correctly, as per EU rules, as per for instance Germany, Brexit would not have happened, the far-right would not have been in the political ascendancy
      and we wouldn't be discussing how to put the genie back in the bottle like two (broadly) liberal-minded, middle of the road politically blokes who have seen their country wrecked.

      WRT to HO figures, I haven't believed a word any UK Government has said since 1999, not least on migration and immigration. I have seen leaked Frontex reports on the percentages of "refugees" who were actually refugees, though.

      I agree with you that the HO has failed on sorting out who is what at a reasonable pace - and so I am sceptical of the HO figures of 50/50, since they fly in the face of other figures from elsewhere, and the HO has an axe to grind, vis covering up it's own ineptitude, and so calling it 50/50 when everywhere else it's 70/30 would seem sensible from the HO arse-covering point of view.

    10. "You may care to note that people claiming asylum are not arriving illegally under international law."

      Once they have been identified as not being asylum seekers, they are by definition illegal immigrants, who have attempted to subvert the law in the UK, and international law.
      I'm not sure why your think that criminal actions should be tolerated, particularly when those criminals make it even harder for genuine asylum seekers to be helped?
      Care to enlighten me? I'd be genuinely interested.

    11. @Books
      "The vast majority of arrivals are enabled and financed by actors financed directly and indirectly by Putin,"
      Oh come on, that is absurd. Most are the consequence of our (including the US) military and political adventures in the ME and Africa. Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Africans via destabilised Libya, etc.

    12. The classical 'train our own' sounds good, but doesn't seem to be practical, at least in the short/middle term and, in any case, it would be insufficient. About the retirees returning to work, good luck trying to convince them.

    13. Sorry, but I agree with Harry on this and he makes some very good points; unfortunately, I am forced to display my credentials before commenting, as otherwise I can just be dismissed, which is part of the problem with discussion about migration/refugee/asylum seeker terminology. I am 62 yrs old, from Co Wicklow, in Ireland; I grew up in poverty, with many of my contemporaries 'emigrating' to UK/US/Aus/NZ/Can. It was accepted as part of the general outlook on life, that 'one' had to do this to make a life and prosper. There was no 'war' before 1966, so no imperative to escape anything other than not being able to live the lifestyle depicted on 'Dallas' on the tv (and paedophile priests, had I come across them). I went to France at 17 and got my Carte de Sejour with the usual heavy bureaucracy of the time in the late 70s-early 80s. I then moved to UK in 1983 under the FTA & I am grateful for the opportunity. I am sympathetic to people moving to the UK, whether to escape tyranny or to improve their economic prospects, but find the Left obsession with conflating the two difficult. The reality is that most people arriving on boats are young single men, looking for a better economic life than they had in their home countries. Not all, but the vast majority. Its time for us to have an honest conversation about what to do with these people - not Rwanda, not barges, but can we please, please have an honest conversation.

    14. @anon 3/5/24, 17.36. You say you want "an honest conversation", and yet you claim that the "vast majority" of ASs are economic migrants, which isn't borne out by the facts, as per my previous response to Harry. I guess you may just say you don't believe them, as he does, in which case there's no basis for an honest conversation, or any conversation at all, since we're all simply expected to accept any assertion you choose to make about what you decide is "the reality". Likewise, the implication that "young, single men" are inherently unlikely to be genuine ASs doesn't assist honest conversation - what do you think the demographic of those who oppose totalitarian regimes, and get persecuted as a result, is most likely to be? Whether or not they *are* is something to be determined in individual cases, rather than assumed by you or anyone else. And if you really want an "honest conversation" can you please stop talking about a conflation of AS and economic migrants, when almost no-one (and certainly not me) on 'the left' makes that conflation. It is actually the far right which habitually does so with the insistence that the 'vast majority' of ASs are in fact economic migrants.

    15. The OP indulges here in the Lump of Labour Fallacy.

      "It patently isn't true: most just want a better life, and if them getting that involves a European losing their job, or not being employed in the first place, you can guarantee they won't give a monkeys."

    16. "yet you claim that the "vast majority" of ASs are economic migrants"
      Chris, with respect - the figures that you rely on are from the Home Office, and UK Government Department that has been run for the past quarter century by two of the most flagrantly dishonest political parties to ever hold power in the UK's history.
      Both have lied and manipulated all manner of data over the past quarter century, with the supposed "Party of the working man" claiming an economic miracle based entirely on importing more heads of population and thus swelling GDP, whilst not investing in infrastructure to house them and thus initiating a house price bonanza that effectively made house ownership out of the reach of ordinary working people - and at the same time, privatised more council homes by stealth than the previous Tory Government, and the one that was elected to replace them.
      Can you not see, why people would rather believe the EU's own border force that any "convenient" Home Office "estimates" ?
      They may be Home Office figures, Chris, and you may put them forward in good faith, but it's forgivable if others disbelieve them, since their source is the UK Government, desperately trying to deflect from it's own dishonesty and incompetence.
      We can, if you like, "split the difference" between the Frontex leak and the Home Office figures, which leaves around 60% + of arrivals illegal. That may not be "the vast majority" - but it is the majority.

    17. @Harry it's not clear to me why there would be any relation between the figures Frontex tracks and the figures of the UK government. There's several thousand kilometres and several countries in between. Unless you beleive people are falling over themselves to choose the UK over other countries (hint: they're not).

      If you ask the people in Calais why they chose the UK, almost always it's because of friends/family already there. Why else choose such a dangerous route? And from a practical perspective, people who have existing support structures in the country themselves are much less likely to be a burden, less likely to cause problems and more likely to be productive in the future.

      What we do see everywhere is right-wing governments deliberately underfunding the departments responsible for determining the status of ASs, meaning it's much harder to actually do anything about them. Hence making the problems much worse than necessary.

    18. Sorry Martijn. None of my replies to other posters, which were in no way unpleasant or aggressive, or otherwise out of order have been published, which boils down to censorship, so I don't bother any more.

      Perhaps Chris should stop comments again, as he doesn't seem to want debate and discussion that doesn't align with his own points of view, or contradict what he puts forward as "facts".

      Twitter beckons...

    19. Of the 50 comments on this post, 9 of them (not including the one I’m replying to) come from you, several of them very lengthy. And, yes, another 7 of your comments have not been published. That’s not because they disagree with me – none of them is even directed at me.

      You can call that “censorship” if you want, but you’re getting a fair crack of the whip and I, for one, am fed up with the way internet forums invariably get used by some posters to try to dominate every discussion and justify it in the name of ‘free speech’. It’s actually a form of aggression, even if the content of the posts isn’t aggressive, like someone trying to dominate the discussion in, say, a meeting. In those circumstances, it’s quite reasonable for a chair, or in this case a moderator, to intervene.

    20. 'You can call that “censorship” if you want ...'

      Some things shouldn't be censored. Some things (at least sometimes) should be censored.

  3. Please explain how frozen sea food from Peru and Mozambique is readily available in the EU, but our lot have so many problems. Thank you.

    1. I recently visited a relative living in Spain. We went to an ordinary supermarket chain in a middle/working class area of Valencia. I could not believe the variety of choice, the colours, size of vegetables, everything was beautiful. I was mentally comparing it with the UK's best supermarkets brands. Not even close.

  4. 'Or do we need to be honest, and arrive at a humane means of returning those who are in any way shape or form economic migrants to a country outside of the EU?'

    A humane means of returning people?

    ' “A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
    ' And his love Thisbe, very tragical mirth.”
    ' “Merry” and “tragical”? “Tedious” and “brief”?
    ' That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow!
    ' How shall we find the concord of this discord?'

    You can return people, or you can be humane. It's one or the other.

    1. "You can return people, or you can be humane. It's one or the other."

      So someone who is legally proven by due process to have broken international law and illegally entered a country while fraudulently claiming to be a refugee should - what?
      What do you suggest is a fitting end to their criminality?

    2. Peter Sijbenga3 May 2024 at 20:04

      Could you stop now? You are riding your hobby horse here all day and you obviously never in your life imagined that you could be the one forced out of your country by whatever dramatic circumstances. To me, your passive aggressive tone shows you are comfortable with your lack of empathy towards people who, in most cases, have suffered hardship and have taken enormous risks to turn their miserable life around. It is time the UK take care of their borders in a way that is respectful and effective. Then, yes, then it may lose a bit of its attraction to those who have been exploiting the hopeless and the desperate for far too long. That these vulnerable people form only a minority within the bulk of foreigners entering Western Europe legally, either by their own initiative or on invitation/request, makes all this Stop The Boat trumpeting even more shrill and unpleasant.

    3. 'What do you suggest is a fitting end to their criminality?'

      The only way something is a crime is if there is a law which makes it a crime (there are kinds of wickedness which are not crimes, because of the absence of a law which makes them criminal); but there are bad laws as well as good laws, and sometimes laws make things crimes which should not be made crimes.

      In this particular instance, nobody can say anything sensible about what should be done about the crimes you are referring to, because you haven't given enough information to make clear which crimes and which laws you are referring to.

    4. Of course people can be returned humanely.

      They can be found not to have a valid claim and to be safe in their country. This happens all the time and in normal countries people are served with notices to leave and if they don't make their own arrangements they're accompanied on to regular flights.

      If that's too dangerous for them then the person has a valid claim.

    5. '... if they don't make their own arrangements they're accompanied on to regular flights.'

      Perhaps they are, but not humanely.

  5. The Dover Port Health Authority (DPHA) said the Sevington inspection facility in Ashford, which is 22 miles inland, had not been designed to handle the scale of imports expected, and claimed its geographical position would “create an open door for disease and food fraud”.

    Anyone found to be carrying unsafe or contaminated food could be asked to turn around and drive back again.

    The government has not explained how lorries will be monitored between the port and its control post, or how it will ensure goods that have been identified as unsafe leave the country.

    “How are we going to make sure those products get back on the ferry?” asked Nan Jones, technical policy manager at the British Meat Processors Association. “With that gap, how do we know they haven’t unloaded a load of products when they’ve been rejected?”

    Brexit is such a pathetic embarrassment. This Government should be ashamed of the disastrously failed outcome.

    1. Yes, indeed. BTW, because I've discussed this issue so many times, I try to avoid repeating in each post all that I've said before, so ICYMI the particular issue of Sevington and the 'open door' was discussed in my posts of 26/1/ 24, 23/2/24 and in most detail on 12/4/24:

    2. I appreciate your references Chris, I only repeat it again due to incredulity that the Government is either totally incompetent or they simply don't care. Shamefully, probably the latter.
      Rather akin to discussing locking a door but leaving the door wide open and the key in the lock, ignoring validated warnings amounting to a complete dereliction of duty and care.
      The FT highlighted the issue again last week.
      Rwanda is all that matters to Sunak evidently.

  6. International borders are a complex issue and it is really unfortunate that the Brexiters (but also many other British) have a rather simplistic, or maybe romanticized, view on them.

    To a certain extent this is quite understandable, as they don't have the same experience as people living with international borders as part of their daily lives.

    It is much easier to consider a passport check or customs/regulation check as "not a big deal" if your personal experience is going through the former once a year when on holidays.

    However, as much as it is understandable for people with the context of mostly living on an island, it is as unforgivable for politicians who also represent people who do have such a border in their daily lives.

    Whether that is the border in Ireland or the border in Gibraltar.

    The people in either of those two regions are essentially domestic experts on international borders, yet were mostly ignored or patronized.

    I grew up close to an international land border in times before the Single Market and Schengen and the border as ever present.

    Even when you were not crossing it yourself you had constant reminders in the form of radio traffic reports with details on expected wait times at various check points, for private vehicles as well as lorries.

    Which made it always puzzling to read how anyone in their right mind could consider an opt-out of the Schengen agreement a positive achievement.

    No other European electorate would allow their government to get away with pursing such an opt-out, let alone celebrate it as something good.

    On the contrary, any delay in becoming a part of the Schengen area is considered either a failure of national government or a affront by existing members who block it (as recently seen in Romania and Bulgaria).

    I am sometimes jokingly suggesting that the British love queuing so much that any attempt at removing the need for it is considered an attack on their Britishness.

    In reality I am at loss why the need to show your ID when leaving orr re-entering the country is so important to them.

  7. I am as bewildered by the reporting around the AS as you are. Since it seems clear that Ireland wants rid of the AS but apparently feels that it cannot send them back to their first port of entry into the EU (FPE) under Dublin III, I conclude that the dispute must be about AS who applied for asylum in the UK.

    To get from their FPE to the UK, they must have told Frontex that they wanted to seek asylum in the UK (and not in the EU in general or Ireland in particular), further reinforcing my conclusion above.

    Now, ordinarily an AS is under the custody of the jurisdiction he has applied for asylum in. If the AS then crosses another border (he would not be able to exit most jurisdictions without an ID but we know that the UK does not check exits) claiming asylum, that act is known as "asylum shopping". No country should have an interest in encouraging this. The processing country should hence always accept returns.

    Of course, this depends on data sharing between countries, which the UK will not engage in. I suspect however (I do not positively know) that the FPE fingerprints every refugee and stores their declared choice of asylum. I expect therefore that when Ireland submits the fingerprints to Frontex, it comes up as "refugee wishing to apply for asylum in the UK". Which means that Ireland cannot return the AS to the FPE. But also means that the UK should take them back.

  8. Comprehensive and essential documentation Chris. Thank you.

  9. I suppose the local election results today can be seen as the 'get Brexit done' hangover after a few years of simple facts and reality. Who could have anticipated a car crash when the clowns were in the driving seat and the car had no breaks?

  10. Paul Flanagan3 May 2024 at 14:19

    There definitely was a vibe that many of the Ukrainian refugees in NI came via Ireland rather than GB. The EU introduced free travel for Ukrainian refugees and Ireland waived visa requirements.

    I remember BBC NI had an interview with the first refugees to arrive in NI. They had travelled across Poland, Germany, France and got the ferry to Rosslare where they were collected by family members and driven to their home in Northern Ireland. The refugees were talking about how great it was to be Ireland , completely oblivious of the whole political angle.

    It was quite apparent given the huge disparity between the number of refugees in the UK being reported by the Home Office and the numbers arriving in Ireland that there was bound to be some splash over.

    The fleeing to friends and relatives in the early stages would have had a higher proportion of this.

  11. Occasionally two seemingly contemporaneous events can be seen as linked even though they are independent. This is the case here.

    The legislation to be introduced in the Dáil next week is to close a loophole in asylum legislation identified in a recent High Court case.
    In the case, two men, an Iraqi and a Nigerian had come to Ireland having spent time in the UK and being refused asylum there. They were also refused asylum in Ireland and were to be returned to the UK where they had made their original claim. They took a test case to the High Court basically claiming the UK should not have been designated a "safe country" in irish law and therefore they couldn't be sent back there. The judge Ms Justice Phelan agreed and said in her judgement "The breech arises from a gap between safeguard requirements prescribed in the [irish] International Protection Act of 2015 and those mandated by the Dublin III regulations". The proposed legislation is to close the gap between both sets of regulations and was in process before the current row broke out.


    The 80% figure was not plucked out of thin air. It is an estimate made by officials in the International Protection Office from initial interviews made with Asylum seekers when they present at the IPO asking for asylum.

    From an irish perspective there is a very easy solution to the recent AS row.

    Give any AS who wants to safely enter the UK a special time limited irish passport. Then return them to the UK where under the terms of the CTA they would be entitled to live and work without a problem or fear of Rwanda. The time limit would give them enough time to apply for UK residency or citizenship. ( Only joking but it would be funny to suggest it )

  12. Thanks. Yes, the issue about the court case etc is well-explained in the Murray & Peers piece I linked to. But, just to clarify one point - I didn't suggest that 80% figure was "plucked out of thin air", just making the point that it has been questioned.

    1. Not saying you did. Just explaining where the 80% figure came from.

  13. There is less hostility to asylum seekers in Ireland than there is to the Tories and to Tories boasting about sending them "to Ireland or to hell". We have even heard of claims on GB News that sending them to Ireland is justified payback "for the weaponisation of the Irish border during the Brexit negotiations" (or, to give it's proper name, the British border in Ireland). Weaponisation as in requiring that an international treaty be upheld in full: the GFA.

    The CTA dates from a British refusal to accept that Ireland wasn't British, that Irish people only imagined they weren't British (the UK didn't appoint an ambassador until 1953). "What would you want a passport for?, You aren't foreign." and Irish interest in keeping an open border on the island of Ireland, given the large number of nationalist hostages in NI (it was eventually compelled to erect border controls for economic reasons).

    The East-West CTA is important principally to NI unionists -- who did have to present ID when entering GB during WW2, through to 1953. What seems overlooked in the UK in the recent contretemps is that border controls are a two way street. Rather more people want to get to the UK from the former empire than to Ireland. As part of the operation of the CTA the Irish were pressed to apply parallel visa restrictions to help ensure that Ireiand couldn't be a back door to Britain for former imperial subjects who should no longer have free entry to the UK.

    Attempting to power the Irish when the UK and Ireland are supposed to operate the CTA cooperatively isn't likely to lead to anything good for the UK. In UK terms, ie relative to population, Ireland has taken in 1.4m Ukrainians at a time when housing is still scarce --- because of a post-financial crash fall in construction and a booming economy that is attracting migrants, incl from the UK.

    The Irish, like most British, are looking forward to the UK becoming more like Ireland: a Tory-free zone. Meanwhile the Irish govt needs no lectures on adhering to international law from a govt that has routinely spoken of breaking it.

    1. Joanne Murphy4 May 2024 at 08:00

      I think there is a typo in your paragraph on the number of Ukrainian refugees given asylum by Ireland. At the end of January 2024, it was about 102,800. See the following page from Eurostat:

    2. The point was relative to population. The equivalent number for the UK would be 14 times more.

    3. Joanne Murphy5 May 2024 at 03:48

      Ah yes, you do say that, my apologies. We see exhibited the dangers of speed reading & not thinking about what you are actually reading.

  14. Having worked in Customs having an inland clearance depot 20 miles from the frontier is crazy - it opens the country to goods being diverted without having been declared and also is an invitation to smugglers of drugs and other prohibited goods to drive off the ferry/shuttle and continue on their merry way ! And this from the party of "law and order".

    1. Criminal negligence.

      Also seen in the NHS, Policing failures, Criminal Justice system, the list is endless sadly.

    2. I suppose the alternative is to use compulsory purchase orders to confiscate and demolish a large area of housing and commerce next to the port of Dover.
      So far that has not been politically feasible in the Tory voting town, and the headline "Dover demolished due to Brexit" was to be avoided.

      The screams of discontent in the press when the lorry park was built on farmland near to a housing estate are one of the forgotten benefits of Brexit.

      But unless The UK rejoins the EU Dover will have to suffer the consequences.

  15. A small issue in the scheme of things, and therefore rarely mentioned in discussions like these, is that prior to Brexit plants and animals that require CITES permits (such as orchids and cacti) could be transported without such permits between the UK and what was then the rest of the EU. Since Brexit, such (expensive) permits are required, making it in practice almost impossible for cactus and orchid amateurs to buy plants in the EU and legally import them into the UK. Conversely, growers in the UK find it too costly to export such plants from the UK to the EU. Brexit has effectively erected an iron curtain for orchid and cacti lovers.

  16. Michael (Dublin)3 May 2024 at 20:55

    Fantastic analysis as ever Chris, particularly on the London - Dublin migration spat (which has been badly handled here in Dublin, and also poorly reported - our journos don’t seem to have done the research you have). Keep up the good work.

  17. I watched the episode of BBC Newsnight this past week that featured the usual pointless shouting match masquerading as debate and in particular listened to Chris Heaton-Harris the NI SoS make a total fool of himself. First in claiming that the recent passage of the Rwanda deportation bill and subsequent reports that asylum seekers in the UK are transiting to the ROI is proof that it’s a good deterrent.
    News reports here in NI are that in his meetings with the Irish Deputy PM he was belligerent and refused to take back these migrants when it’s very clear that the Anglo-Irish Agreement about a CTA andbwhich dates from the 1920’s only applies to UK and Irish citizens.
    If the UK persists in repudiation of yet another binding international treaty then it will further doom relations with both the EU and the US and in short order France will ignore the bilateral Le Trouquet agreement and stop preventing migrants from getting into small boats to cross the channel. The 40 - 50K per annum that enter England currently will immediately become a number well north of 200K.

    Plus as Priti Patel noted when she was Home Sec despite Brexit EU nations do take back any migrants arriving in the UK who are later found to have already applied in an EU nation. That too will end.

  18. Interesting YouTube with Phil Pluck, Chief Executive of the Cold Chain Federation.

    He steps forward to tell us that the model of importing fish from France at dawn, and having it in Billingsgate by 10:30 the same day has been completely destroyed by the new requirement that imports be registered 24 hours prior to import for importation into the UK.

    Apart from that bombshell revelation, he says that his organisation's estimate of new importation costs are going to be in the billions. Oh, plus all the chaos!

    The Government are clueless he opines.

  19. "Presumably it would entail ASs arriving in Great Britain and making their way to Cairnryan in Scotland and thence by ferry to Larne" - or by the Belfast ferry from Liverpool (which is much easier to get to than Cairnryan).