Only five people who arrived in the UK by small boat have been sent back to a European country so far this year, according to the Home Office. The figure comes from junior minister Tom Pursglove, who told MPs on the Home Affairs committee that, thanks to Brexit, there is no agreement in place allowing that to happen:
We offered as part of our withdrawal from the European Union a comprehensive returns arrangement which the European Union decided not to [accept]. We clearly need to continue to discuss that with our European friends and neighbours.
Within the EU, there was such an agreement: the “Dublin” arrangements. In the last few years of UK membership that was not a particularly effective tool for sending asylum seekers back to mainland Europe: the number of Dublin removals had fallen to a trickle in recent years. (More on this from Colin shortly in a forthcoming article.) Nevertheless, from a Home Office point of view, having no return agreement at all is hardly an improvement.
Pursglove added that the government was also trying to strike bilateral deals with individual countries. It has been trying for some time: his predecessor, Chris Philp, told the same committee last December that “our priority is to reach proper bilateral agreements. That will be our number one priority”. While such deals remain elusive, so too does the Brexit promise of “taking back control of our borders”.