The UK and Italy’s governments may soon sign a migration agreement that will assist both countries reduce the amount of people coming on their beaches in small boats, according to The Telegraph.
Controlling migration has emerged as one of the key pillars of policy for governments in several other European nations, including Italy and the UK. Small boats carrying individuals have become more prevalent in recent years as they go toward the beaches of Italy and the UK.
It was a topic that was touched upon when British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in April, when the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to tackle migration. They called the memorandum the “Strategic Migration Partnership.”
Now, the British right-wing newspaper the Telegraph is reporting that in mid-June, the UK’s Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, was sent to Italy to talk to senior Italian government officials to work on a “deal.”
A UK government source confirmed to Reuters that Case was indeed in Italy in this period, although didn’t comment further on the matter, or what exactly the deal could involve.
On July 2, the Italian newspaper La Stampa also confirmed that an undersecretary in the Italian cabinet, Alfredo Mantovano, had met with officials from London recently.
Sunak, Meloni pledge to curb migration
When they came to power, both Sunak and Meloni pledged that they would get migration under control.
Sunak made it one of his top five pledges this year. But now, possibly a year away from a general election, and about to face some by-elections, Sunak is facing criticism from within his own party, as well as from without, about his handling of migration policy so far.
Just a few weeks ago, he made a trip to Dover on the British Channel coast, a day that was windy and when no crossings happened, to declare that numbers were going down.
But by the end of June, government figures showed that the month had registered a record number of arrivals (3,824). Italy too had the highest numbers of arrivals so far this year in June at 14,575, significantly more than the previous tally for June in 2022 (8,152).
12-point plan proposes further migration cuts
Now a pressure group from within the Conservative party, calling themselves the ‘New Conservatives, formed of about 25 backbench politicians has issued a 12-point policy plan calling on the government to make even tighter controls on immigration. The group of so-called ‘Red Wall’ politicians (Conservative MPs who won seats in traditionally Labour-controlled former industrial areas, mostly in the north of England) has asked the government to start closing temporary visa schemes to reduce the number of migrants and their dependents arriving in the UK on legal routes.
The group has also asked that the government pass its “Illegal Migration Bill”, which is currently making its way through parliament, and cap the numbers of those legally accepted for refugee resettlement in the UK at 20,000 per year.
The group has also suggested that the government reduce the number of international students staying in the UK for up to two years after graduation without a job, suggesting if the government were to follow their proposal, it could reduce the number of migrants by about 50,000 per year.
If the government were to adopt the 12 points, migration could be reduced by around 553,000 people, according to the list published in The Guardian newspaper. It is not clear, however, whether some of these estimates might cover the same groups of people.
The group has also asked the government to increase the immigration health surcharge, and cap the amount of social housing offered to migrants, to prioritize British families in need of housing.
According to the group, if the government were to successfully pass its “Illegal Immigration Bill”, it could reduce the numbers of migrants coming into the country by “at least 35,000.”
Last week however, the high court already ruled that one plank of the new bill — the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to be processed and reside — could not go ahead.
Taking back control of borders
On Monday (July 3) at a press conference to present the alternative 12-point immmigration policy proposals one of the speakers, MP Miriam Cates said that immigration had “rocketed” since the 2019 election and that those who had voted for Brexit in 2016 had done so in order to “take back control of our borders,” reported Sky News.
Cates said that “the bar for entry has been set so low that we’ve seen unprecedented levels of immigration that show no sign of falling. We have not delivered on promise, and we must.”
Cates believes that the government must “dramatically cut net migration by the next election. A failure to keep numbers down despite a clear mandate and repeated promises raises deep concerns about national and cultural security, and democracy and sovereignty.”
Downing street rejects some of demands
After the press conference, sources in Downing Street told the Guardian that the government was rejecting some of the proposals the ‘New Conservatives’ put forward, including one to ban foreign carers getting work visas.
A spokesperson for the prime minister reportedly said, “that’s not an approach we’re considering currently… we know there is significant demand in the care sector for staff. We are boosting domestic staff and backing that with hundreds of millions of pounds in support … right now we think we’re striking the right balance.”
The government also reiterated they welcomed highly trained students with the “skills the UK wants and needs” and would not be changing the current limits of UK students searching for a job after graduation, reported the Guardian.
The spokesperson did however say that the government would be looking to ask the House of Commons, Parliament’s lower house, about putting a cap on the numbers of refugees resettled in the UK each year.
Similar values but awaiting further details of possible deal
It remains to be seen what might be in the rumored deal between Italy and the UK, but after their meeting in April, the two leaders were reported in the Italian press, including in the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, as being “on the same page,” and “completely aligned.” This, said Meloni, “is a new start for bilateral relations between Italy and the United Kingdom.”
Sunak at the time said “our [countries’] relationship is based on a friendship forged over decades of collaboration. We have the same values and we can work well together,” reported Il Sole 24 Ore.
In April, Sunak and Meloni pledged to start sharing information necessary to help police forces in both countries fight against criminal trafficking groups bring migrants in to the country. They also said that in order for both countries to get migration under control they would need to come up with “innovative approaches”, reported Il Sole 24 Ore.
At the time, the promises reiterated the fact that any cooperation would be “fully coherent and complementary with Italy’s membership of the European Union,” and so would not be contravening any European treaties like the European Treaty of Human rights. To that end, the memorandum mentioned the two countries would explore voluntary repatriations and readmissions and not deportations.