Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urges stronger cooperation on border issues despite host country’s hesitations
At the Council of Europe meeting in Iceland, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, agreed to establish a new working arrangement to strengthen cooperation on migration, Downing Street confirmed.
This comes despite Iceland’s foreign affairs minister, Thordis Kolbrun Gylfadottir, suggesting migration was not the summit’s primary focus.
The arrangement outlines collaborative efforts between British agencies and Frontex, the EU border force, on “critical operational and strategic challenges including the situation in the Channel.”
The specifics of this new working arrangement are yet to be discussed by the UK and the EU.
Sunak, who aimed to spotlight migration at the Reykjavik summit, called for reforms to Strasbourg measures and advocated for sustained support to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
He warned leaders that the existing system for policing human trafficking was “not working” and called for increased cooperation to stop illegal channel crossings.
The Prime Minister also held talks with the president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Siofra O’Leary, on reviewing Rule 39, which impeded his plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
Sunak stressed the need for the Strasbourg court to operate fairly, transparently, and effectively. He declared the UK would build upon its record of leading reform of the ECHR, pointing to the Brighton Declaration on human rights cases as a precedent.
Sunak also met with Dutch leader Mark Rutte, committing to combat human trafficking through bilateral collaboration and European Political Community forums. At the summit, Sunak lamented the global and local costs of failing to prevent unlawful migration.
This discussion coincides with the Conservative administration’s efforts to pass the Illegal Migration Bill, aiming to curb asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel in small boats.
This legislation seeks to return asylum seekers arriving via unauthorised routes to their home countries or to third countries like Rwanda, while also reducing the daily cost of housing migrants in the UK.
Despite speculation that UK migration could surpass one million next year, Downing Street affirmed the government’s commitment to reducing net migration. The priority, according to a Downing Street spokesperson, is “tackling illegal migration in the first instance.”
The Council of Europe, established post-World War II to uphold democracy and freedom, held this meeting – only its fourth since its founding in 1949 – with a focus on Ukraine’s situation and holding Russia accountable for breaches of international law.