The UK’s hardline approach to tackling the Channel crisis risks damaging improving relations with Europe after Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal restored trust,i has been told.
The Prime Minister’s new Illegal Migration Bill has a more than 50 per cent chance of breaching the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitted on Tuesday.
The legislation was announced amid improving relations between the UK and EU following the Windsor Framework agreement on Northern Ireland.
But the legislation has sparked concern among senior politicians in Europe that the UK is prioritising domestic politics over human rights that form the bedrock of Western democratic alliances, and could undermine Mr Sunak’s summit with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.
A senior German politician told reporters on Wednesday that any breach of the ECHR could damage the West’s “geostrategic interests” as it tries to persuade developing countries to follow international law.
i understands there are also concerns in Germany that breaching international law could undermine attempts to rein in Russia, which has become a pariah state after flouting global norms by invading Ukraine.
A Brussels insider meanwhile told i that the legislation and “sabre rattling” from the UK Government over the ECHR “won’t go unnoticed” as Mr Sunak tries to rebuild damaged relations with the EU.
EU Commissioner Yiva Johansson says she told Suella Braverman that she believes her asylum plans break international law. The EU intervention may not bode well for Rishi Sunak’s summit with Emmanuel Macron this Friday.
“I spoke to the British minister (Home Secretary Suella Braverman) yesterday on this and I told her that I think that this is violating international law,” she told Politico.
It comes after politicians from the Netherlands and France criticised the legislation on Tuesday, suggesting it was disproportionate and would not solve the Channel crisis.
Dr Anton Hofreiter, chair of the German Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, highlighted the importance of international law during a visit to London on Wednesday.
Dr Hofreiter, a member of the Greens which form part of the ruling coalition in Berlin, said: “We have noted the reaction of the United Nations, and they are really concerned about what’s going on.
“We also heard some strange comments with people we talked to, for example one comment about the fact the UK had left the European Union so the Court of Human Rights should not apply to us – but it’s nothing to do with each other.
“We can understand relocation (of migrants) is not easy to handle, but it’s not easy for any European country but in these times we can only recommend every country to apply international law.
“It’s also important for us in relationships with the countries of the Global South because they always tell us: international law is important for you when it is comfortable for you – each event that proves that maybe this is true is a problem.
“It’s also a problem for our geostrategic interests and that we have to take into account.”
However, Joelle Grogan, an EU law expert and research fellow at the UK In a Changing Europe think-tank, said the Bill “is not necessarily going to sour the improving relations with the EU”.
“It may raise concerns as to its feasibility, and be most damaging to relations if the Home Secretary sought – in practice – to return asylum seekers to EU countries without reciprocal arrangements.”
Dr Grogan said the “the most significant threat to EU relations” would come if the UK were to withdraw from the ECHR, which is being demanded by some right-wing Tories, as it would call into question the Good Friday Agreement, the Windsor Framework and the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has insisted the UK will “abide by” its international obligations when asked whether he could guarantee that Britain would not withdraw from the ECHR.
“I’m very happy to echo the words that the Prime Minister’s made. We’re one of the founders of the ECHR, it’s incredibly important,” the Foreign Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
He added that while the Government has “got to address this issue” of illegal migration, “we absolutely take seriously our international obligations and we will abide by those”.
“We will make sure that the actions that we take comply with the ECHR.”
The concerns come amid a growing atmosphere of trust built up by Mr Sunak, according to German Christian Democrat Detlef Schreif, who was part of the delegation to the UK led by Dr Hofreiter.
Mr Schreif described the Windsor Framework as an “historic decision” coming after six years of “decreasing trust” .
“In Rishi Sunak we can see he has a different style in terms of negotiations…We get the impression that we can once against trust the UK.”