Theresa May – 2016 Statement on Justice and Home Affairs Council

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Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 29 April 2016.

A meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council was held on 21 April. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister and I attended on behalf of the UK.

The Council began with an adoption of the A items, including the formal adoption of the passenger name records (PNR) directive, which the Government welcome. I have always been clear of the importance of PNR and strongly believe that this directive will enable all members of the European Union to work even closer together to tackle terrorist threats.

The Commission then presented its smart borders proposals and communication on “stronger and smarter information systems for borders and security”. On smart borders, the Council agreed to work towards achieving political agreement by the end of the year. Given that the UK does not participate in the borders aspects of Schengen, we will not take part in these measures.

On the information systems communication, the focus was on improving interoperability of data systems. The majority of member states agreed with the position I set out, prioritising improving data quality in existing systems and ensuring that appropriate data sets could be easily “washed” against each other. I also emphasised the need to further strengthen co-operation between member states on two important areas: first, non-Schengen states, including the UK, need to be able fully to share important removal and entry ban data with Schengen states; second, the need for more proactive and systematic sharing of criminal records data of people convicted of offences relating to terrorism and serious organised crime.

Member states also agreed on the need to ensure the right quantity and quality of information is provided to EU systems, such as the second generation Schengen information system—SISII. I supported these calls, while noting that provision of this information remained a matter for member states.

The presidency reiterated the importance of the political commitment to data sharing and concluded that the next step would be the development of a “roadmap” on improving information sharing, which it intended to present for adoption to the June JHA Council.

The Commission then introduced its communication on security. The Commission stressed that this would not in any way affect member states competence for security matters and highlighted the need for effective implementation of existing initiatives, including on tackling firearms, and for better data sharing and threat analysis. I welcomed the focus on making better progress on practical initiatives and underlined that responsibility for national security lies solely with member states.

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the Commission communication on the reform of the Common European asylum system, in particular options for changes to the Dublin system.

There was considerable opposition to any radical change to the Dublin system and no consensus on the preferred option for change. Views among member states were diverse and several opposed relocation being a part of any new system. The Immigration Minister set out the UK’s clear view that the existing principles of the Dublin system should be retained and shared the concerns of many others about relocation: any crisis relocation mechanism must be kept separate from the existing Dublin system. The Government do not support relocation as it is the wrong response to the migratory pressures the EU faces. It undermines the important principle that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and does not address the causes of illegal migration.

After lunch, there was a progress report on the proposed European Border and Coast Guard Agency. Given the UK’s position in relation to Schengen we will not participate in this measure. However, we support the efforts by member states to improve management of the external border of the EU. The presidency would now open “triologue” negotiations with the European Parliament and reaffirmed its intention to reach agreement with the Parliament by June, in line with the deadline set by the European Council.
Discussion then turned to EU-Turkey migration. The presidency reaffirmed the need to speed up the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement of 18 March. The Commission stressed that they were working on securing guarantees for non-Syrians returned to Turkey.

A number of members states stressed the need for strong security checks on individuals coming to the EU. Frontex highlighted its role in returning 325 irregular migrants from Greece to Turkey on 4 and 8 April. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) reiterated the request for longer deployments and stated that they needed 50 or 60 people to facilitate relocation from Greece and Italy.

The Immigration Minister announced a new package of support for Greece, in particular 75 personnel ready to be deployed. The UK would also launch a new scheme to resettle children at risk from the middle east and North Africa. Several hundred would be resettled in the first year with a view to resettling up to 3,000 by the end of the Parliament.

The Immigration Minister set out that making the EU-Turkey deal work was vital and the inadmissibility procedures needed to be applied appropriately to avoid undermining the agreed approach. The EU needed to ensure that it was possible to return all nationalities to Turkey. Helping to develop the Turkish asylum system was also a top priority.

The presidency concluded that there was agreement to increase the quantity and quality of pledges to EASO and Frontex, and that attention would need to be given to the possibility that migratory routes may shift, especially towards the central Mediterranean.