Northern Ireland

Asylum row: Don’t send gardaí to border, Rishi Sunak tells Dublin

Justice Minister Helen McEntee claimed there had been a rise in the number of asylum seekers crossing the border from the north.

Rishi Sunak said ‘sending police to villages in Donegal’ was not the answer to ‘illegal migration’
Rishi Sunak said ‘sending police to villages in Donegal’ was not the answer to ‘illegal migration’

The British prime minister has urged the Dublin government not to send police into border areas amid a row over asylum seekers crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

Rishi Sunak said the Dublin government “must uphold its promises” to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and avoid setting up checkpoints to prevent asylum seekers entering the country.

Diplomatic tensions between London and Dublin have increased in recent days after the Republic’s justice minister claimed there had been an upsurge in asylum seekers crossing the border following the passing of the UK’s Safety of Rwanda Act.

On Tuesday, the Dublin government said 100 police officers would be made available for frontline immigration enforcement duties, although Dublin insisted they would not be “assigned to physically police the border with Northern Ireland”.

Answering questions in the Commons, Mr Sunak said ministers were seeking “urgent clarification that there will be no disruption or police checkpoints at or near the border” and that there must not be “cherry-picking of important international agreements”.

He added: “Now, it’s no surprise that our robust approach to illegal migration is providing a deterrent but the answer is not sending police to villages in Donegal. It’s to work with us in partnership to strengthen our external borders all around the Common Travel Area that we share.”

His comments came in response to a question from DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who accused the Dublin government of “hypocrisy” given its stance on the border during Brexit negotiations.

Downing Street has repeatedly stressed that the UK is under no legal obligation to accept returns of asylum seekers from the Republic, and would not do so while France continued to refuse to accept returns from the UK.

There is an operational agreement on the Common Travel Area with Ireland which Dublin says provides for returning asylum seekers, but Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said this was not legally binding and nobody had been returned to the UK under its terms.

Simon Harris has previously said Ireland will not ‘provide a loophole’ for other countries’ migration ‘challenges’
Simon Harris has previously said Ireland will not ‘provide a loophole’ for other countries’ migration ‘challenges’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

One person has been returned to the Republic under the agreement since it was signed four years ago, the spokesman added.

On Wednesday, the spokesman said: “We obviously work with them on a range of issues, including in relation to security issues in the Common Travel Area, but the UK has no obligation to accept returns.”

Labour said it agreed with the British government that the UK should not accept returns from Ireland “while Britain is not able to return people who arrive here from the EU”.

The British government has claimed the reported increase in asylum seekers entering the Republic from Northern Ireland demonstrated that its Rwanda scheme was already acting as a deterrent.

Taoiseach Simon Harris has previously said the Republic will not “provide a loophole” for other countries’ migration “challenges”.

It is not clear how many asylum seekers have crossed the border into the Republic.

Tánaiste Micheal Martin said his colleague Helen McEntee’s figure of 80% of total border crossings was not “evidenced-based”, while DUP MP Ian Paisley told the Commons it was “made up”.

Downing Street said it did not have data on crossings as the border is not policed.