Northern Ireland ‘weak spot’ for migration if Rwanda plan does not apply – MP

Northern Ireland will become a “weak spot” in the UK’s migration policy if the Rwanda Bill does not apply in the region, a DUP MP has said.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill aims to compel judges to regard the east African country as safe in a bid to clear the way to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight there.

During a debate in the Commons on amendments to the Rwanda Bill, MP for East Antrim Sammy Wilson expressed his party’s support for the sentiment of the Rwanda plan, but said if it was not applied in Northern Ireland the region could become a “channel” for illegal migration.

Amendments Mr Wilson said the party would support the Government in voting down included amendment one, which would ensure the Bill complies with domestic and international law, and amendment four which would allow the presumption that Rwanda is safe to be challenged in the courts.

Mr Wilson told MPs: “We cannot go on with the pressures that mass illegal immigration puts on society, and the cost which it puts on society and on the government and on the tax-payer.

“For that reason we will oppose most of the Lords amendments which as the minister has rightly pointed out and other speakers have pointed out during this debate, many of them were designed to weaken this bill, to undermine it and to ensure that it doesn’t work and that we just remain with the old flawed system that we have been trying to put aside.

“The minister has said that the reason why the Government opposes them – and he’s right – that he doesn’t want to see the Bill weakened, but could I say the Bill is ready weakened.

“It’s weakened in respect of one part of the United Kingdom, and I seek assurances from the minister as to how he comes to the conclusion that by pushing the Bill through in its present form it is going to safeguard all parts of the United Kingdom against illegal immigration being channelled through different parts.”

David Trimble funeral
DUP MP Sammy Wilson expressed his party’s support for the sentiment of the Rwanda plan, but said if it was not applied in Northern Ireland the region could become a ‘channel’ for illegal migration (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Wilson said that Northern Ireland’s geographic separation from mainland UK by the Irish Sea did not mean the region was less susceptible to illegal migration.

He said: “The implications of course are that if Northern Ireland becomes the weak spot in all of this then this becomes meaningless.

“And people think the boats aren’t going to come from France across the sea into southern Ireland, it’s a 24-hour journey, but remember Belfast, already out of 77 cities in the United Kingdom, has the second highest number of illegal immigrants per 10,000 of the population.

“So already it is a channel, through the Republic into Northern Ireland and then of course into England, so this is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

He added: “The real difficulty is and the real danger is if Northern Ireland does become that channel then we’ll finish up not just with a border for goods, but we’ll finish up with passport control for people moving from Northern Ireland.”

Earlier in the debate, DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) intervened to ask for clarity on the Rwanda Bill’s compatibility with article two of the Windsor Framework.

Mr Shannon said: “Can the minister confirm that our concerns as the Democratic Unionist Party we put forward at the last debate, and I put forward to the minister himself, have been taken on board?

“Because we don’t see that in the legislation before us today, and if we don’t see it then it’s going to be very hard for us to support the Government on this.”

Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson replied: “The Government continues to believe there is no incompatibility between the Bill and article two of the Windsor framework.”