LONDON — British MPs urged the government on Monday to return to EU-level meetings on migration after dozens of migrants were found dead inside a truck in Essex.
The House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee said in a report that the recent deaths of 39 people in a suspected people smuggling case should serve as a “wake-up call” to the Foreign Office and the U.K. government in general.
British officials started to withdraw from most EU meetings in September to free up officials to work on Brexit preparations and post-Brexit trade opportunities. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said in August that officials would only attend meetings with “significant national interest.”
But the foreign affairs committee now argues it’s important for the U.K. to coordinate on migration with the rest of the EU until it leaves the bloc.
“The U.K. has a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution and cooperating with others to protect human rights. We should lead by example,” said committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat. “It’s crucial that we plan our response to irregular migration together. This means that until we leave the EU, we should return to the meetings where migration is discussed and develop ways to keep channels open with the EU and others.”
The committee also recommends the U.K. boost its bilateral cooperation both with France to improve the treatment of migrants crossing the Channel illegally, and with Italy to ensure “a reasonable level” of search-and-rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean.
“The U.K. cannot expect others to prevent Channel crossing attempts if we are not willing to work together to address the root causes,” the MPs wrote.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the U.K. could be excluded from the bloc’s Dublin regulation, which establishes the criteria and mechanisms for determining which EU country is responsible for examining an asylum application.
After the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020, the U.K. also faces being kicked out of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, the Europol agency coordinating international investigations related to the Essex truck case.
The committee recommends the U.K. should “move quickly” to negotiate close future cooperation on irregular migration with the EU. This is likely to mean negotiating a replacement for the Dublin regulation and possibly taking part in future EU relocation schemes on a voluntary basis, the MPs said.
A government spokesperson said that tackling the “scourge of human trafficking at every stage of the migrant journey” is a major priority for the U.K.
“The U.K. does this by addressing irregular migration, from reducing factors driving migration … to strengthening border security and counter-trafficking operations,” the spokesperson said. “The U.K. government and law enforcement agencies work extensively with international partners, key transit countries, and the nations of origin to stand up to this global criminal industry that perpetuates human suffering.”
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