The European Union could force Britain to take tens of thousands of new refugees pulled from the Mediterranean under plans being drawn up by commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
The demand will likely cause David Cameron’s first confrontation with the EU since winning re-election last week.
The European Commission is proposing a system whereby EU member states share responsibility for “mass influxes” of refugees during times of “emergency” – with the commission defining what constitutes an emergency.
The plan could see the number of people seeking refuge in Britain double from 30,000 to 60,000 per year as unprecedented numbers of migrants try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy and Greece.
The Times reports that the proposals will create “a mandatory and automatically triggered relocation system to distribute those in clear need of international protection within the EU”.
“To ensure a fair and balanced participation of all member states to this common effort . . . the EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states,” the proposal adds.
Britain will likely be forced to take a larger share than many other nations due to its wealth, population size and employment rate.
The plan has already been approved by France, Germany and Italy, but the Home Office has said Britain will oppose the plan. A spokesman said: “We do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer. We will oppose any EU commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota.”
Cameron may struggle to win an opt-out for Britain as he has no way of vetoing the proposal and the strong support of other major EU nations makes a blocking minority all but impossible.
The row will be an annoying distraction for the Prime Minister as he attempts to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership. A heavy defeat for Britain on the issue could hasten the country’s exit from the European Union.