James Cleverly to praise 'close and friendly co-operation' in EU speech

Citizens' rights and illegal migration among topics to be discussed in Brussels

Britain's Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 18, 2019.  REUTERS/Hannah McKay
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UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will hail a “new chapter” in the relationship between London and Brussels in a speech to EU parliamentarians on Monday.

Mr Cleverly is in Brussels to meet with EU leaders, when he will make a speech that is expected to look ahead to better and more "mature" post-Brexit relations and praise “close and friendly” co-operation.

He will also hold talks with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg ahead of a crunch summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

"This is a new chapter in the UK-EU relationship," he said ahead of his trip to Brussels.

"We stand together in our support of Ukraine, and we want to maximise the opportunities of our trade deal.

"But we don't have to agree on everything - a mature relationship can deal with differences."

The speech to the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, which was created as part of the post-Brexit trade deal, comes as Rishi Sunak's government seeks better relations with the bloc.

Mr Cleverly is also expected to stress the importance of continued support for Ukraine as part of the visit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in London last month, as part of the UK-hosted Ukraine Recovery Conference.

The Prime Minister earlier this year brokered the Windsor Framework deal with the EU, designed to address concerns over the operation of post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

At the core of the deal is the creation of a new system for the flow of goods.

Anything destined for Northern Ireland will travel there as part of a “green lane”, with significantly fewer checks. Anything that could cross the border and enter the EU’s single market will travel through a separate red lane.

While the deal did not lead to the return of powersharing at Stormont, which the Democratic Unionist Party continues to boycott, it did usher in hopes of a new foundation for UK-EU ties.

The Foreign Secretary will co-chair the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee alongside the EU's Maros Sefcovic and is also expected to meet European Parliament President Roberta Metsola as part of the trip.

Citizens' rights and illegal migration are among the topics that could be on the agenda at the committee meeting.

'Destabilising' mass migration

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing calls from within his own party to further cut immigration, as a group of Tory MPs offered a series of proposals to drastically curb the "destabilising" impact of "mass migration".

The MPs are calling on ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers in a bid to reduce migration figures by more than 80,000, while also calling for a cap of 20,000 on the number of refugees for resettlement.

The report is backed by a group of right-wing Tory MPs from the 2017 and 2019 intake, including Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson and backbencher Miriam Cates, and written by Ipswich MP Tom Hunt.

The 25-strong group, named the New Conservatives, say the proposed measures would reduce net migration by 400,000 and in doing so meet the 2019 manifesto pledge that "there will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down".

Net migration was 606,000 last year, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

In the report, MPs tell the Prime Minister that a promise to reduce immigration formed a key plank of Boris Johnson's 2019 victory, which saw the Tories make sweeping gains in former Labour heartlands or so-called "red wall" seats.

The group says the current post-Brexit system has been "too lenient" and is not working, saying that "mass migration is having destabilising economic and cultural consequences".

On the issue of visas for care workers, the report says: "Visa eligibility for both care workers and senior care workers were introduced as 'temporary' measures to address post-pandemic labour shortages.

"They were added to the Shortage Occupation List 'in response to pandemic pressures'.

"Neither measure has yet been brought to a close, despite the abatement of the pandemic and its associated consequences."

The group calls it "encouraging" that the Illegal Migration Bill, currently in the Lords, contains plans for an annual cap on refugees who come to the UK through safe and legal routes.

The report suggests that a "cap of 20,000 would offer a number that, excluding Hong Kongers and Ukrainians, exceeds the total number of people granted asylum or resettled in the UK in any given year since 2002.

"This cap could then be lifted in order to respond to an unforeseen emergency, such as a natural disaster or a war."

Between 2014 and 2022, about 54,000 people were resettled or relocated to the UK under refugee schemes.

Updated: July 02, 2023, 11:01 PM