1.Since the EU began cooperating formally on asylum policy in the early 1990s, the UK has enjoyed, and frequently exercised, the right to decide which aspects of the EU’s asylum system—the Common European Asylum System (CEAS)—it wishes to participate in. The UK opted into and is therefore bound by all the original CEAS legislative instruments, but chose to participate only in parts of the second phase of CEAS, namely, the Dublin III system for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged within EU territory, and the Eurodac database of the fingerprints of asylum seekers.
2.As a consequence of these decisions, the UK is already out of step with the EU standards on reception conditions, asylum procedures, and qualification for international protection, insofar as these differ from the provisions set out in international instruments like the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, its 1967 Protocol, and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
3.This report begins with an overview of international refugee law, the Common European Asylum System, and the different routes available for people in need of international protection to seek asylum in the UK. Chapter 3 considers whether and how leaving the CEAS will affect the UK’s asylum system, how Brexit might affect bilateral cooperation on asylum and migration, and the particular implications of a ‘no deal’ scenario. Chapter 4 explores options for future UK-EU asylum cooperation, including in the context of a possible UK-EU agreement as well as on the basis of bilateral cooperation with individual Member States. Finally, Chapter 5 considers criticisms of the UK’s asylum system and priorities for its future improvement.
4.The Committee has a long-standing interest in the area of asylum and international protection, particularly with regard to refugee children, and this report is usefully read alongside our 2016 report, Children in crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU.
5.The EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, whose members are listed in Appendix 1, met in June and July 2019 to take evidence for this inquiry. Before deciding to launch the inquiry, in February and March 2019, we also held two evidence sessions relevant to Brexit and asylum cooperation, which are referenced in this report. The Committee is grateful to all those who gave oral evidence or provided a written submission, who are listed in Appendix 2.
6.We also visited Oslo in June 2019, to explore the ways in which Norway, a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but not an EU State, works with the EU in the area of asylum and migration management. We would like to put on record our thanks to the UK Ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood, and all his staff, for their help in organising this valuable and informative visit.
7.One of the evidence sessions (referenced above) which preceded this inquiry was with the then Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes MP, on 13 March 2019. This session focused on future EU work migration, but included a brief discussion on how Brexit would affect UK-EU cooperation on asylum, refugee returns and family reunion, and possible features of the future UK-EU relationship in this area.
8.In May 2019, the Committee decided to launch a formal inquiry into the implications of Brexit for refugee protection and asylum policy, and published a call for evidence. We very much regret that—despite repeated invitations—the Government has been unable to find the time to provide oral or written evidence to this inquiry. The inquiry has raised very real concerns about how Brexit could affect refugees and asylum seekers, in particular separated families and unaccompanied children. The Government’s failure to give evidence means that there is little up-to-date public information available on how it is working to ensure that these vulnerable people who have already experienced trauma do not face additional suffering as a result of Brexit.
9.As this report was being agreed in September 2019, the Committee received a response from the Security Minister to a letter we had sent to the Home Office in July asking various questions relevant to this inquiry. Although not an adequate substitute for formal evidence, we refer to this response in the report as the only recent indication of the Government’s views on these important issues.
10.We take this opportunity to note that Ministers have a duty to be as open as possible with Parliament, and to account to, and be held to account by Parliament, for the decisions and actions of their departments and agencies. We do not consider that the context of Brexit, or any change in office holder, provides sufficient justification for failing to uphold these duties.
11.We make this report to the House for debate.
1 European Union Committee, (2nd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 34)