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Blair Defends New EU Asylum Plans

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Tony Blair has insisted closer co-operation with Europe over asylum and immigration will not mean losing control of Britain's borders.

The prime minister said the UK would only participate in EU-wide action where it was in Britain's interests.

The Tories say the change surrenders Britain's national veto and question how an opt-out would work in practice.

But Mr Blair told his monthly news conference Britain had the "best of both worlds" and would keep the veto.

No obligation?

"There is no question of Britain giving up our veto on our border controls," he said.

"With the Treaty of Amsterdam seven years ago, we secured the absolute right to opt in to any of the asylum and immigration provisions that we wanted to in Europe.

"Unless we opt in we are not affected by it. And what this actually gives us is the best of both worlds.

"We are not obliged to have any of the European rules here. But where we decide in a particular area, for example to halt the trafficking in people, for example to make sure that there are proper restrictions on some of the European borders that end up affecting our country, it allows us to opt in and take part in these measures."

Home Secretary David Blunkett is meeting his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Monday to consider proposals aimed at streamlining decision making on the issue.

'Gullible government'

The 25 member-states are expected to scrap the requirement for unanimous agreement on immigration policy, in favour of the qualified majority voting (QMV) system.

Under this scheme larger states such as Britain are expected to have more power than the smaller EU states.

Britain is expected to retain an "opt-in" right which will allow it to ignore any measures it disagrees with.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "This is the action of a gullible government.

"Once we give up the veto, we will see the development of a whole body of European law which will put inexorable pressure on us to give up any opt-out clauses."

He accused the government of "giving up power" when it should be "getting a grip" on the existing British asylum system.

Best of both worlds

But Mr Blunkett told BBC News the UK would now get "the best of both worlds".

He added that Britain was not getting an "opt-in" but rather an "opt-out" if the government decided any aspect of immigration policy was not in the UK's interests.

The Home Office says signing up to qualified majority voting on immigration and asylum is in Britain's interests.

"The reason we want to sign up to QMV is that we are one of the fastest-moving countries on immigration and asylum, and it means we can drive it forward, rather than go at the pace of the slowest-moving member of the EU."

Mr Blunkett has already said he will not support plans for a common asylum system like the scheme being floated in Brussels.

The meeting is expected to approve what is known as the Hague programme of justice and home affairs policies.

It will replace a five-year plan agreed by European ministers in 1999.

The programme includes a plan for common deportation procedures and for spreading those granted refugee status more evenly across the EU.

It is expected to be approved by the heads of government, including Tony Blair, at a European Council summit in Brussels on 5 November.

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The Tories say the change surrenders Britain's national veto and question how an opt-out would work in practice.

Yeah, the Tories will say anything at this point tongue.gif

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Tories attack new EU asylum moves

David Blunkett has been accused of using the "politics of confusion" to disguise new EU immigration measures.

Tory spokesman David Davis told MPs the UK was losing its power of veto over who was allowed to come to Britain.

The EU has opted to adopt qualified majority voting in this area - previously measures needed unanimous agreement from all member states.

Mr Blunkett told MPs the UK would still be able to reject proposals on immigration it did not agree with.

Opt-in or opt-out?

He argued closer co-operation with Europe over asylum and immigration was crucial to controlling the flow of people into the UK.

"If we don't like what other EU countries do on immigration and nationality we have the right to opt-in or out to suit the British people," he said.

The home secretary was responding to an emergency question from his Tory opposite number Mr Davis.

"The government is employing the politics of confusion - I think, deliberately," argued Mr Davis.

"By confusing the country it hopes no one will notice the disappearance of the asylum and immigration veto."

On Monday Tony Blair insisted closer co-operation did not mean losing control of British borders.

He said an enlarged 25-member EU needs a streamlined decision making process.

Mr Davis said once Britain had opted into policies then it could not opt out - leaving the UK open to unfavourable interpretations of what those policies actually meant.

'Pathetic'

He accused the government of being "pathetic" when it came to its efforts over immigration and asylum and of "surrendering" on the issue.

And he asked why the government was agreeing to the measure on asylum and immigration now when the whole issue was part of the EU constitution, which voters in the UK had been promised a referendum over.

Mr Blair told his monthly news conference Britain had the "best of both worlds" and would keep the veto.

"There is no question of Britain giving up our veto on our border controls," he said.

"With the Treaty of Amsterdam seven years ago, we secured the absolute right to opt in to any of the asylum and immigration provisions that we wanted to in Europe."

Mr Blunkett met his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Monday to consider proposals aimed at streamlining decision making on the issue.

'Gullible government'

The 25 member-states are expected to scrap the requirement for unanimous agreement on immigration policy, in favour of the qualified majority voting (QMV) system.

Under this scheme larger states such as Britain are expected to have more power than the smaller EU states.

Britain is expected to retain an "opt-in" right which will allow it to ignore any measures it disagrees with.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten called the change pragmatic and argued it gave a better chance of producing a European asylum solution.

"If we don't work together it means some countries can ignore their responsibilities at the expense of their neighbours," said Mr Oaten.

"The Liberal Democrats have long argued that Britain should be a safe haven for asylum seekers but it's right that we don't do this in isolation."

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/uk_p...ics/3954635.stm

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