Rishi Sunak’s mission to put illegal migration at “the top of the agenda” at the meeting of European leaders in Moldova could be threatened by Polish anger over EU plans to relocate migrants within the bloc.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister convened a roundtable on security alongside his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, at which he planned to “stress the need to deal with organised immigration crime”.
“In every meeting, every summit, every international gathering like this, the security of our borders must be top of the agenda,” Mr Sunak said in a statement ahead of the meetings.
He is expected to use the European Political Community (EPC) summit, seen by the UK as a means of engaging with the EU and neighbouring countries post-Brexit, to announce talks on an asylum-seeker returns agreement with hosts Moldova and an intelligence sharing deal with Bulgaria to disrupt people smuggling gangs at the bloc’s external border.
But the Polish Prime Minister and his government have hit out in recent weeks against plans by the EU Commission to introduce mandatory relocation of migrants among members, which could stymie Mr Sunak’s hopes of a deal with the EU.
Under the plans seen last week by the Polish press agency Polska Agencja Prasowa (PAP), EU states will have to agree to accept a share of migrants arriving within the bloc or will be required to pay the equivalent of €22,000 (£19,000) per migrant.
The aim of the policy is to relieve the pressures on frontline countries that have to bear most of the migratory pressure by mandating the relocation of a certain number of asylum seekers to each member state.
Around 30,000 migrants will initially be relocated among member states under the plans with a possibility of increasing this to up to 120,000 in future.
Following the reports, Mr Morawiecki issued a statement on Twitter claiming there would be “no and there will be no consent to the forced relocation of migrants to Poland”.
This sentiment was echoed by, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, the Minister of European Affairs in the Polish government, who wrote on Twitter that his country “has always consistently opposed mandatory mechanisms for the relocation of migrants” and that his government has “consistently and strongly oppose attempts to return to these ideas”.
The migration policy is set to be approved by the European Council at a meeting of EU home affairs ministers on 8 June but has seen fierce opposition from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Sweden, which currently has the presidency of the EU Commission and Council, has insisted that the relocations will not be compulsory, and will rather consist of “mandatory solidarity” between EU states.
The divisions within the EU on the distribution of migrants are unlikely to be positive news for Mr Sunak, who had hoped to seek agreements on the returns of asylum seekers in future.
Anand Menon, director of the UK In A Changing Europe think-tank, told i on Wednesday that “there is absolutely no sympathy for the UK position” on migration as “ we are taking so many fewer than they are already”.
One EU diplomat also warned that any agreement struck between members states may not necessarily include the UK now it has left, as the EU wanted to focus on a “mechanism internally that might work on burden sharing”.
The Prime Minister is also set to hold meetings with the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in which No 10 said they would “discuss how the UK and Spain can keep up the momentum of international action on illegal migration”.
But Mr Sanchez is also facing his own battles against rising anti-immigrant sentiment at home. The Socialist party leader recently called a snap election following poor regional election results for his party and has warned that Spain could follow the US and Brazil by lurching to the far-right when the country goes to the polls on July 23.
“Spain is not immune to this reactionary trend, but in Spain we can stop it, for our sons and daughters,” he told Socialist lawmakers on Wednesday.
He urged Spaniards to decide whether “they want a prime minister on the side of Biden or Trump, on the side of Lula or Bolsonaro”.
If they get a minority, they may have to seek a coalition with the anti-immigration and anti-abortion Vox party.
Mr Sanchez also recently struck a deal with the US President Joe Biden allowing asylum seekers from Latin America to apply to come to Spain via hubs in their own countries, in what was seen as a victory for the country’s bilateral relations with the US.
Spain has struggled to find workers to fill posts in the key tourism, construction, agriculture and technology sectors as its economy recovers following the coronavirus pandemic.