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David Cameron: EU deal with Turkey will not mean more migrants coming to UK

Britain will not be taking any extra migrants as a result of a deal being struck between the European Union and Turkey, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Mr Cameron was speaking as he arrived at a summit in Brussels at which it is hoped to finalise an agreement drawn up with Turkey two weeks ago to stem the flow of migrants across the eastern Mediterranean.

The Prime Minister said that reaching a deal which would allow migrants to be returned from Greek islands to Turkey would represent "good progress".

Under the terms of the proposed deal, the European Union would take one Syrian refugee from camps in Turkey for every migrant returned to the country. Ankara stands to gain 6 billion euros (£4.7bn) in aid as well as visa-free travel for its nationals.

But Mr Cameron said that provisions on the visas and refugee resettlement would not apply to Britain because it is not part of the EU's Schengen border-free area.

"Because we have kept our own border controls, because we are out of Schengen, we won't be offering visa-free access to Turks as part of this agreement," he said.

"We maintain our own immigration policy.

"We have already said what we are going to do in terms of taking Syrian refugees to Britain and that is under way. We won't be taking more because of what is discussed here today.

"If we can get an agreement that returns the migrants from the Greek islands to Turkey that would be good progress."

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu drew up the principles of the deal with German chancellor Angela Merkel before presenting it to the other 27 leaders of EU member states at a summit earlier this month. He will join them again in the hope of securing final agreement.

Under the plan, Turkey would receive 3 billion euros (£2.3bn) in additional funding by 2018, on top of 3 billion offered late last year. The EU also said it would speed up a visa liberalisation process to allow 75 million Turks to visit the Schengen area without a visa by June. Talks on Turkey's long-stalled application to join the EU will be revived.

It is understood that the deal envisages fast-track hearings and appeals before irregular migrants are returned to Turkey, in order to overcome objections from the United Nations to blanket removal of all those arriving by boat in Greece.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that any arrangements would respect both European law and the Geneva Conventions.

He said: "I'm pretty sure and confident that we will reach an agreement with Turkey today or tomorrow."

European Council president Donald Tusk said he was "cautiously optimistic" about finalising the agreement, but added: "Frankly speaking, more cautious than optimistic."

Mr Cameron made clear that the UK backs the proposed arrangement, but would not add to its existing plan to take in 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees from camps in the region over five years.

"What matters today is actually busting the business model of those people-smugglers and therefore breaking the link between getting on a boat and getting settlement in Europe," said the Prime Minister.

"So we support the idea of turning people from the Greek islands back to Turkey. That's a good idea."

Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: "The EU's plan to outsource its responsibility for protecting refugees to Turkey is immoral, unworkable and probably illegal.

"The fact that the Government is boasting of its intention not to lift a finger to help more refugees find safety in the UK is emblematic of its lack of moral leadership and political courage to do the right thing and offer more refugees safe passage."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested that the prospect of immediate return from the Greek islands to Turkey would halt the flow of migrants by the eastern Mediterranean route "in three to four weeks" after finalisation of the deal.

But Mr Cameron warned fellow leaders that the new arrangements may push some to switch their efforts further west to the sea routes from Libya, in a repeat of scenes last summer when thousands attempted the perilous journey by boat to Italy.

While attention has been focused during the winter months on the eastern Mediterranean route, which remained viable because of the proximity of Greek islands like Lesbos to the Turkish coast, Mr Cameron will tell the Brussels summit that Europe should be preparing for the possibility of a new surge of boats from Libya as the weather and sea conditions improve.

The PM told MPs on Wednesday that Britain was "definitely" ready to assist the new Government of National Accord established last weekend in Libya as it addresses the double challenge of people-smuggling and the Islamic State terror group.

Meanwhile, EU auditors issued a harsh verdict on efforts to control migration from outside the bloc prior to the current crisis. External migration operations on southern and eastern borders between 2007 and 2013 lacked a clear strategy and suffered from "complex governance, insufficient coordination and the absence of a funding overview", said the European Court of Auditors.

Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said the UK believes the proposed new arrangements with Turkey can be imposed "in line with EU and international law" as individual cases would be assessed on their merits.

But Amnesty International refugee director Steve Symonds said: "The plan lacks both logic and compassion. By abandoning their legal obligations, European leaders won't put a stop to refugee migration.

"In fact, they'll make it even less likely that countries like Turkey will improve their treatment of refugees, resulting in still more people risking their lives in search of safety."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Turkey was "blackmailing" the EU over the migrants.

Mr Farage told ITV News: "We are about to offer the Turks visa-free access for 77 million people into the EU, possibly from June. We are going to give them 6 billion euros, of which (the British) are contributing 500 million sterling. And Merkel has made a promise to Turkey that they can join the EU in a few years' time.

"Frankly, we are giving, giving, giving ... They have been blackmailing and they have been doing very well."

Mr Farage said that unless it was made clear that migrants would be processed in Turkey to see whether they had a genuine case to enter Europe as refugees, numbers arriving in the EU this year could rise as high as 1.5 million.


From Belfast Telegraph