A senior EU official said she did not expect the bloc to reach a migration deal with the UK due to disputes over the Brexit deal.
Ylva Johansson, EU Home Affairs Commissioner, said EU member states had a “limited” appetite for a deal with the UK to deal with asylum seekers and migrants, citing concerns over the post-Brexit trade deal and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Instead, she said, the focus should be on “practical cooperation” to curb attempts by people to cross the Channel from France, such as police cooperation and intelligence sharing.
She was speaking before EU and UK negotiators clash last week over the future of the Irish Protocol, the deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market , which the British government wishes to rewrite. His comments underline how the dispute over the protocol harms broader EU-UK relations, highlighting the task facing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss who took over the Brexit dossier on Sunday , following the shocking resignation of David Frost.
The dispute over the protocol also means, for example, that British scientists remain excluded from the EU’s â¬ 95.5 billion Horizon research funding program.
Speaking to The Guardian and other European newspapers, Johansson said: âWe have some concerns about the implementation of the TCA [Trade and Cooperation Agreement] and the Northern Ireland Protocol at the moment, so I guess member states’ appetite to start negotiations for a new deal [on migration] â¦ is limited.”
Last month, 27 people drowned in the English Channel trying to reach the UK from Calais, with a record number of perilous travel attempts. The tragedy prompted an agreement between Northwest European countries to toughen action against smugglers, although Home Secretary Priti Patel was turned down from a meeting due to a Franco-British quarrel over how to handle the problem.
Johansson stressed the importance of working with the UK to tackle migrant smuggling networks operating in Germany, Belgium and France to take people to Dover. âI think the most important thing is to find practical cooperation with the UK on these matters and we need to work together on this. I think that should come first before discussing any new formal mandate to negotiate a new deal. “
His view contrasts with the French government, which is seeking a broader deal between the EU and the UK to deal with people heading north from France and seeking to reach British shores. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has said France will push for an EU-UK migration treaty when the bloc takes over the rotating presidency on January 1. âWe have to negotiate a treaty, because [the former EU negotiator] Sir [Michel] Barnier did not do this when he negotiated Brexit.
EU member states did not discuss the Channel at a meeting earlier this month on tackling irregular migration, instead focusing on the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border, where people from the Middle East were trapped in desperate conditions, having arrived in Minsk.
The EU commissioner held talks with the Home Secretary last week in what EU officials described as a “short and constructive appeal” where the two agreed “on the need to act to a determined way to fight against the growing phenomenon of migrants crossing the Channel, and that the priority should be to focus on practical and operational cooperation â.
Home Office sources gave a similar account of the call, stressing the need for urgent, collaborative and practical action.
During Brexit negotiations, Brussels rejected a British proposal that would have allowed the government to return asylum seekers to the EU, a right the UK enjoyed as an EU member state. In August 2020, the Home Office said the UK “will be in a position to negotiate its own bilateral return agreements” from the end of this year.
The Home Office declined to say what progress has been made on bilateral return agreements with EU states, with officials saying they did not provide a continuous comment.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: âThe tragic events in the English Channel last month were a stark reminder of how dangerous these small boat crossings are.
We maintain that this is a global challenge and we have a shared moral duty to collectively fight illegal migration. We remain committed to working closely with our EU neighbors to find a common solution to prevent further loss of life. “