Theresa May attacked home and abroad for defending UK interests in EU migrant crisis row

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AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

Signalling a return to normal service following the end of coalition government in the UK last week, Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May has come under attack from former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown regarding her stance on resettling African migrants to the EU.

The Home Secretary’s observation yesterday that some migrants make the journey “simply seeking to come for economic reasons” and that those doing so should be returned when the EU had established “safe landing sites in North Africa” incensed Lord Ashdown. The Independent reports that he characterised the comment as the Tories reverting to type “right wing, isolationist and lacking in humanity.”

More importantly the new government’s first real fight with the European Commission has begun as a result of the Home Secretary’s stated refusal to accept EU proposals responding to the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean. Brussels recently detailed the emergency plans for EU member states in northern Europe to ease the burden on Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain by compulsorily taking a share of the African migrants.

Although Britain is not obliged to participate because of the immigration and asylum opt out it enjoys, May argues that instituting a compulsory quota system would merely exacerbate the problem, acting as a “pull-factor” that encourages more migrants to Europe. She instead says that the problem would be better addressed by targeting the illegal people smuggling operations in order to shut it off at source.

The Guardian reports that European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has rebuked the Home Secretary saying: “I have the highest regard for British intelligence but I am not sure Theresa May had already read all the plans we have made, what will make the situation worse is doing nothing.”

Stephen Hale, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, warned that while politicians “wrangle in Brussels” people are still drowning, and that Britain “can and must lead Europe in compassion and fairness by voluntarily offering resettlement places to desperate people forced to flee.”

Although the government has a majority of just 12, May can expect near universal support for her position as she no longer has to rely on Ashdown’s Liberal Democrat colleagues for support.