At the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Priti Patel said that she was in “active discussions with EU member states on bilateral arrangements” for the return of asylum seekers who had arrived in the UK, adding: “I have spent a great deal of time with the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Last night I was speaking to my French counterpart as well.”
The issue is critical because the UK’s policy is that migrants should be forced to seek asylum in any “safe” third countries through which they have passed to reach the UK. Since the start of this year, the Home Office has routinely refused to consider asylum claims from people that it believes passed through any “safe” country.
But the Netherlands’ Ministry of Justice and Security told the Financial Times it was not engaged in the process of making bilateral agreements with the UK for the return of “irregular migrants”. It said: “We want to make such agreements within the European framework.” Bruno van der Pluijm, Belgium’s ambassador in London, said: “When it comes to return agreements . . . I can also confirm that there are no such talks taking place with Belgium”, while a French diplomat indicated there was no change to the country’s view that migrant return issues were a matter for the European Commission, not member states.
When the chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, Yvette Cooper, demanded an “urgent correction and explanation” from Priti Patel, the Home Office said:
“We reject this implication entirely. The home secretary made clear we do not provide a running commentary on returns agreements and highlighted how we are engaging with international partners to deal with illegal migration.”
Priti Patel’s claim that she was in “active discussions with EU member states on bilateral arrangements” were swiftly contradicted by the countries involved. When we offered Priti Patel the chance to comment, she did not reply. Her misleading remark remains on the Commons record in defiance of the Ministerial Code.