David Cameron faces pressure on EU migration rules

New report finds Britain’s immigration system has huge backlog of cases

British prime minister David Cameron is to face increased pressure from Eurosceptic Conservative Party MPs to secure changes to EU migration rules after a new report found that Britain's immigration system is a "mess".

As public debate in Britain about immigration intensifies ahead of next year’s general election, a report by the public accounts committee published yesterday found that the home office had failed to deal with Britain’s backlog of asylum cases, with 29,000 applications dating back seven years still not resolved.

Chairwoman of the committee and Labour MP Margaret Hodge said the home office should "as a matter of urgency, take more steps to identify people who remain in the UK illegally and speed up their removal".

The publication of the report coincided with the results of a YouGov poll which showed that 57 per cent of voters considered immigration the most important issue facing the country.


Mr Cameron also confirmed yesterday there will be a House of Commons vote on an opt-back in to the European arrest warrant within the next three weeks. Although Britain has opted out of a number of EU justice and home affairs measures, it wants to opt back in to specific elements, including the European arrest warrant.

EU referendum

On Tuesday evening, proposed legislation that would have put an EU membership referendum on the British statute book was blocked, with the Conservative Party blaming the Liberal Democrats for voting against the Bill. It leaves the Conservatives as the only party to have committed to a referendum on EU membership by 2017.

Immigration has become the focus of Mr Cameron's pledge to renegotiate British membership of the European Union ahead of a proposed referendum on EU membership should the Conservatives win the next election. The prime minister is expected to outline plans to impose restrictions on migrants from other EU member states in the coming weeks, although senior EU officials insist free movement rules are non-negotiable.

Incoming European Commission president Jean- Claude Juncker said last week in Strasbourg that he was "not prepared to change" a principle that has been at the heart of the EU since its inception, while German chancellor Angela Merkel told the Sunday Times that Germany "will not tamper with the fundamental principles of free movement in the EU".

Among the ideas being considered by Number 10 is the application of an emergency “brake” on the numbers of EU migrants coming from certain countries, though the legality of the move under the EU treaties is in doubt.

The Conservative Party is facing pressure from a large minority within the party to secure changes to EU freedom of movement rules, amid fears of voter defection to the UK Independence Party in next May’s general election.

Ukip won its first Westminster seat last month after Douglas Carswell, a former Conservative MP who defected, won a byelection in Clacton. There are fears that a second seat could go to Ukip at a byelection prompted by the defection of former Conservative MP Mark Strood to Ukip, in the constituency of Rochester and Strood on November 20th.

Fitzgerald welcomes arrest warrant move

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has welcomed the announcement by British prime minister David Cameron that the House of Commons will vote on the European arrest warrant in the next few weeks, writes Stephen Collins.

Mr Cameron has been under pressure from up to 100 Conservative backbenchers not to proceed with the planned UK opt in to the arrest warrant.

"This is a very important matter for the operation of the criminal justice system in our two countries and I welcome Mr Cameron's decision to go ahead with the opt-in," Ms Fitzgerald told The Irish Times.

She said that the European arrest warrant was a vital weapon in enabling Ireland and the UK to co-operate in dealing with serious crime and terrorist offences in the interests of the people of both countries.

“At any one time there are people charged with very serious offences awaiting extradition between the two jurisdictions and if the UK had not agreed to the opt-in it would have had damaging consequences,” said Ms FitzGerald.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent