Britain ‘free of EU shackles’ as bloc set to allocate migrant quota

HMP Northeye – where the government hopes to house migrants

The UK could have been forced to accept the allocation of any size of “mandatory migrant relocation quotas” if it remained in the EU, Brexiteers have warned. The European Parliament voted in support of the EU’s new Migration Pact on Thursday.

The move was lambasted by MEP Charlie Weimers who voted against the proposals.

Commenting on the proposal, Nile Gardiner, former aid to Margaret Thatcher, warned without Brexit, Britain could have also been forced to give up on its sovereignty over migration rules.

He said: “National sovereignty does not exist within the European Union. It is a supranational entity that tramples upon the independence of nation states.

“The British were absolutely right to throw off the shackles of the EU.”

The proposals — passed in a series of votes by a roughly two-thirds majority — include an emergency plan that would oblige the 27 EU nations to help one of their number should that country’s reception capacities be overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of people hoping to enter.

The measures make up the European Parliament’s position for negotiations with the EU member countries and set a clock ticking. The member countries now have a year to finally reform their creaking asylum system before Europe-wide elections are held in May 2024.

Should they fail to do so, the project might have to be abandoned or completely overhauled as it’s taken up by the next European Commission — the EU’s executive branch — and the new members of parliament.

Europe’s divisions over migration were exposed in 2015 when well over 1 million people, mostly Syrians fleeing war, sought refuge. Reception facilities in the Greek islands and Italy became overcrowded.

As migrants moved north in the tens of thousands, some countries — Austria, Hungary and Slovenia among them — erected fences and barriers. Many people hoped to find sanctuary or better lives in places like Germany and Sweden.

Under existing rules, the country that people first land in must take responsibility for them. Greece, Italy and tiny Malta say that is unfair. They’ve demanded support and solidarity from their EU partners. But several countries refuse to accept the imposition of obligatory quotas of migrants.

MEPs now propose that any EU country hit by the sudden and mass arrival of people should activate a crisis mechanism. The commission would share out responsibility for the migrants using a pre-agreed “solidarity pool” based on annual support plans submitted by each member state.

Any migrant relocations would be based on these peoples’ “meaningful links” to a country they might be sent to, such as family ties, cultural similarities, or where they might have previously studied. Lawmakers hope this will discourage them from searching for a better place to stay.

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The long-festering dispute has led to the collapse of the system. Unable to agree, the EU has tried to outsource its migrant challenge, making legally and morally questionable deals with countries like Turkey or Libya, which many people transit through on their way to Europe.

The vote comes amid a sharp rise in migrant arrivals, although the entries are tiny compared to the number of refugees being handled in poorer countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

On April 11, Italy’s right-wing government declared a six-month national state of emergency to help it cope with a surge in people arriving on the country’s southern shores. Italy used a state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic to mandate many measures by decree, temporarily bypassing the usually long parliamentary process.

Since the start of this year, about 31,000 migrants, either rescued by Italian military boats or charity ships or arriving without assistance, have disembarked, according to the interior ministry. That’s nearly four times the roughly 8,000 for the same period in each of the two previous years.

Thursday’s votes at the EU parliament only became necessary after the political group that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s party belongs to, supported by a bloc of independent MEPs, forced the polls.

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