If Brussels bullies us like this now, think what they will be like if we vote to stay in, writes Conservative MEP DANIEL HANNAN

We can only wonder at their sense of timing. Just as our referendum on leaving the EU gets under way, Eurocrats have issued a blackmail threat against the UK.

They say either we join their scheme for sharing out migrants and refugees, or we can forget about returning illegal entrants to safe Continental countries.

The sheer disdain being displayed by the Brussels elite is staggering. If this is how they treat us in the run-up to the referendum, imagine how they’d treat us if we voted to stay.

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We can only wonder at their sense of timing. Just as our referendum on leaving the EU gets under way, Eurocrats have issued a blackmail threat against the UK. The European Commission's headquarters is shown

 At present, the EU operates on the ‘first country of entry’ principle, or Dublin Convention, which dates from 1997, whereby refugees are expected to apply for asylum in the first EU state they reach. If they move elsewhere in Europe, they can be returned to that state.

These rules make sense. After all, the priority of a genuine refugee is to get out of a particular country, not to get into a particular country.

In practice, the deal has not always been easy to enforce. Many of the people entering Britain illicitly know how the rules work so destroy their travel documents before arriving. This often makes it impossible for us to return them, because the ‘first country of entry’ cannot be identified.

 Nonetheless, the Dublin Convention provided some check on so-called asylum tourism. Then came last year’s mass population movements, exacerbated by Angela Merkel’s announcement that Germany would make no attempt to prevent people entering her territory via other safe states.

More than a million people set out from Asia and Africa, determined to reach northern Europe. Many came by sea through Spain, Italy and Greece, but had no intention of staying in those unemployment blackspots.


Many more came by land through Hungary and, similarly, didn’t linger in a low-wage post-communist state. Some headed for Germany, others for Sweden, others for Calais and Dunkirk, waiting for a chance to enter the United Kingdom.

EU leaders responded, not by seeking to restore border controls, but by imposing a quota system whereby each country would have to accept a certain number of asylum seekers.

Britain, which, along with Ireland, had wisely opted out when the border-free Schengen zone was created in the rest of the EU, declined to participate. Some of the other EU leaders became envious and resentful.

Now, they have turned their resentment into a concrete threat. If Britain doesn’t agree to take migrants from other EU countries, it will no longer be able to return illegal entrants to the ‘first country of entry’. Migrants will, in effect, be waved through to Dover.

Britain is already accepting the neediest displaced Syrians: women and children from the makeshift camps in Lebanon. Pictured: Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan walk this week in very cold weather

  David Cameron says he ‘won’t rule anything out’ in EU vote

 This is not about humanitarianism. Britain is, after all, already accepting the neediest displaced Syrians: women and children from the makeshift camps in Lebanon.

That doesn’t count, though, in Eurocrats’ eyes. They want Britain to take migrants who have already crossed into the EU, and are therefore not at immediate risk. The welfare of refugees matters less, in Brussels, than the continuation of political integration.

I spent part of last summer volunteering in a hostel for underage migrants in Italy. The boys I met there were mainly from West Africa and were guilty of nothing more than resourcefulness and optimism. I hope that, in their situation, I would also have been brave enough to undertake the journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean in search of a better life.

Still, very few of the lads I worked alongside were, in any meaningful sense, refugees. A mass movement of people is under way that is only distantly connected to the war in Syria and it is now clear that sea-borne migration is no longer a summer phenomenon.

Last January, 1,472 people crossed the Aegean illegally to reach Greece. This January, 1,735 have made the journey every day. Experts predict that as many as ten million people will enter the EU this year.

I have never seen immigration policy as the main reason for Britain to leave the EU. For me, the democratic, constitutional and economic objections to membership are far stronger.

Last year’s mass population movements were exacerbated by Angela Merkel’s announcement that Germany would make no attempt to prevent people entering her territory via other safe states

 Still, it is worth noting that no one, on the Left or the Right, would have designed from first principles a system where we have to give unrestricted access to half a billion people, not on the basis of their skills or merit, but because they happen to hold EU passports.


I think Britain can benefit from a measure of controlled, legal, economic immigration. I also think we should make space for a defined number of displaced people and refugees. All we ask in return is a sense that we are ultimately in charge of who comes in, and in what quantity. As long as we are in the EU, we can have no such control.

The present system is especially unfair to citizens of those English-speaking countries which, twice in the last century, came to our aid when we were most in need.

Many Britons of Commonwealth origin now find that they struggle to bring Auntie over for a wedding because we have cracked down so severely on non-EU visas in order to free unlimited space for migrants with no connection to this country. Quite apart from the ingratitude, it makes no economic sense. In practice, we are turning away skilled computer engineers from Bangalore in order to admit unskilled labourers from Bratislava.

The rules of the game are being changed retrospectively. Britain agreed to open its borders to the EU, but it is now clear that the EU has opened its borders to the world. That was never the deal.

Daniel Hannan (pictured) is a Conservative MEP
Daniel Hannan (pictured) is a Conservative MEP

The only surprise is that the EU has issued its threat now, a few months before we, its second-largest economy, vote on whether to reclaim our independence.

If Eurocrats knew their history, they would know that nothing makes us as resolute as the sense that someone is trying to bully us. More to the point, if they treat us with such disdain now, think how much more contemptuous of us they would be after a vote to stay.

We know that several other nasties are being held back until after our poll. For example, the forward planning of the EU budget between now and 2020, which was due to be discussed this summer, has been postponed because of the UK referendum.

The Belgian Commissioner, Marianne Thyssen, has a scheme to harmonise welfare and social security around the EU, which she wants to apply to all 28 states, but she, too, is holding off until after our vote so as not to scare the horses.

And we know that there is every chance of a renewed crisis in the single currency.

Only this week, the Greek finance minister was hinting at the need for yet another bailout and, despite all the written guarantees to the contrary, Britain keeps being forced to pay to rescue the euro. How much steeper will that bill be if the euro crisis spreads to Italy or France?

Meanwhile, the EU’s political integration continues. All week, Eurocrats and MEPs have been threatening sanctions against Poland because they don’t like the new Eurosceptic government in Warsaw.


I suppose Poles should count themselves lucky that no one is proposing to impose a civilian junta on them, as happened in Italy and Greece in 2011, when both countries saw their elected prime ministers toppled and replaced by Eurocrats.

In hoping to secure victory in the coming referendum, British Europhiles are relying, above all, on our inertia. They believe that, even though we dislike the Brussels racket, we will be too cautious to risk a change. Yet it is becoming pitilessly clear that the real risk is in voting to stay.

The EU is not stationary; it is constantly moving toward deeper union. If we vote to remain in, we shall be voting to be part of everything that is coming: the integration of our tax systems, defence policies, welfare rules and, yes, immigration policies.

Brussels, not Westminster, will decide how many asylum seekers come here. We cannot say we haven’t been warned.

  • Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP.

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