Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers and refugee resettlement.
I continue to believe strongly that we need to do all we can to help the world’s most vulnerable people. In the last 12 months, the UK granted protection to over 7,500 children, and to 41,000 children since 2010. This is more than the vast majority of EU countries have done to help vulnerable children.
The UK’s resettlement schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees. As of September 2019, over 18,250 people have been resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and over 1,700 have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). Over half those resettled via these two schemes have been children.
The Prime Minister made clear the importance that the Government places on ensuring that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU Member State can continue to be reunited with specified family members who are in the UK, as well as children in the UK with family in the EU, following the UK’s exit from the EU. This remains a negotiating objective of this Government.
It is also important to note that the UK will continue to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation during the implementation period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests that have been submitted.
The new clause 37 in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is primarily about clarifying the role of Government and Parliament in negotiations. It is right that the statutory obligation to negotiate is removed and not retained by this amendment, so that the traditional division between Government and Parliament be restored, and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.
A statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU does not itself lead to an agreement. That is not in the gift of the UK Government alone as it requires EU co-operation at a time of complex negotiations. The new clause requires the Government will lay a statement before Parliament on its policy regarding any future arrangements between the UK and the EU regarding the family reunification for unaccompanied children seeking international protection.
You may be pleased to hear that the Government has already made efforts to begin negotiations on this issue, with the Home Secretary writing to the European Commission on 22 October inviting the EU to begin discussions.
There has been misleading reporting over the past week, claiming that the Government is turning its back on vulnerable refugees, in particular unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
However, the UK Government has a strong and proud record of helping vulnerable children and this will not change.
The Government is doing more than most EU countries to help vulnerable unaccompanied children. In 2018, the UK had the third-highest intake of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children in the EU, receiving 15% of all claims from unaccompanied children across Europe.
We remain absolutely committed to seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and we do not require the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to achieve this.
The purpose of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is to put the Withdrawal Agreement, which the Government has agreed with the EU, into law. It is not about our future relationship with the EU.
An agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children is a matter for negotiations with the EU and isn’t solely in the gift of the UK. That is why the Home Secretary proactively wrote to the European Commission on 22nd October to commence negotiation on this issue. Clause 37 of the Bill amends our statutory obligation to negotiate to an obligation to make a policy statement to Parliament, in light of this fact.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.