Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, accused the Prime Minister of signing up to a ratchet mechanism for the one-way transfer of power over immigration policy away from this country to Brussels .

    Peter Lilley said: “I asked Tony Blair to confirm that Britain will be unable to amend or withdraw from EU immigration measures the government may ?opt into? even if circumstances subsequently change, or the European Court interprets those measure in ways that we do not anticipate. The Prime Minister confirmed that that was indeed the case.?

    “Unfortunately, Tony Blair no longer seems to recognise the difference between co-operating with our European partners on immigration (which is sensible) and transferring powers to them to determine how policy develops in future (which is folly). It is particularly dangerous for Britain to allow asylum and immigration policy to be made by our Continental partners because we are in a very different position from them. As an island we only need to police our ports and airports ? they need to police vast land boundaries which is much more difficult. If our right to impose controls on people entering the UK from the continent is eroded then we would find ourselves as vulnerable to immigration across those external land borders as are continental countries. And experience shows that, given the chance, immigrants would prefer to come to the UK rather than remain in the first EU country they enter as the International Convention suggests they should.

    “Tony Blair used to recognise the danger of handing over power on an issue of this importance since he originally promised he would not give away control. Now he is giving it away by stealth because he is more concerned to win the goodwill of his fellow EU leaders than to do what is in Britain?s national interest.?

    Peter Lilley went on: “Britain has become a soft touch on asylum and immigration: the Government has lost control of the system, with Hertfordshire County Council alone having had to spend ?18,496,283 on asylum since 1997.

    “The situation will get worse if Labour, supported by the Liberal Democrats, opts into the new EU laws on asylum and immigration, and allows the European Constitution to give unelected, unaccountable judges more power over our asylum system.

    “We need a fair immigration system that helps genuine refugees and gives priority to those who want to come to Britain to work hard and make a positive contribution ? otherwise, even more taxpayers? money is going to be diverted away from frontline services.?

    Notes to Editors
    The chart below, gathered from answers from Parliamentary Questions, shows local authorities? expenditure on asylum from 1997-98 onwards (based on government grant to local authorities).

    The cumulative cost since 1997 of ?3.1 billion is equivalent to ?142 per household across England?s 21.7 million households liable for council tax.

    1998-99 costs onwards
    Hansard, 19 October 2004, col. 600W.

    1997-98 costs
    Hansard, 6 April 1998, col.120W.

    Net Expenditure on asylum 1997-98 1998?99 1999?2000 2000?01 2001?02 2002?03 2003?04 2004?05 Cumulative total 1997 to 2004
    England ?86,554,914 ?192,735,000 ?305,510,000 ?551,157,000 ?552,742,000 ?520,942,000 ?490,757,000 ?397,606,000 ?3,098,003,914
    Hertfordshire ?50,283 ?391,000 -?539,000 ?4,696,000 ?5,896,000 ?3,753,000 ?2,445,000 ?1,804,000 ?18,496,283

    Extract from Hansard attached

    Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Does the Prime Minister accept that what he has signed up to on immigration is a ratchet mechanism for the

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    one-way transfer of power on making immigration policy away from this country to the supranational authorities in Europe? Can he confirm that, whenever the Government opt in, as he puts it, to immigration measures taken under that procedure, if circumstances subsequently change, or the European Court interprets those measures in ways that we do not anticipate, we will be unable to amend them, or to withdraw from them?
    The Prime Minister: The simple position is that we are entitled to decide whether we opt in to any of these measures. That is the pick and choose Europe, if you like, that I thought the right hon. Gentleman and others supported. It is precisely what we are able to do. Indeed, it is more than that: if at the end of the process we decide not to opt in when the measure is first discussed, after that discussion, we can also decide to opt in.
    Of course, once we opt in, we are part of that process. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] But it is our complete choice as to whether to opt in; we might as well say that about any measure in Europe. I thought that the whole point was that the Conservative party wanted a situation in which, when measures were discussed, we had the decision whether to opt in or not. This gives us that decision. Obviously, once we opt in, that is presumably because we have decided that it is in our interests to do so. Only the Conservative party could say that a decision whether to opt in is somehow a negation of our sovereignty; surely it is the expression of it.