Gibraltar’s chief minister has urged Home Secretary Priti Patel to reject “groundless speculation” that his territory could be used to process people seeking asylum in the UK.
Fabian Picardo has written to Ms Patel about reports asylum seekers could be sent abroad for processing under UK government plans to discourage people from making dangerous journeys to Britain.
According to The Times newspaper, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man have formed part of discussions, with other islands off the UK coast – possibly in Scotland – and unnamed third countries also said to be under consideration.
But Mr Picardo has insisted no such proposals have been made to his government, as he highlighted how immigration matters are the responsibility of his own ministers.
He also noted how Gibraltarian law, not UK law, governs the presence of asylum seekers on the British overseas territory, which is less than three square miles in area and known as “The Rock”.
The chief minister asked Ms Patel to confirm the reports are “groundless speculation”.
He pointed to Gibraltar’s geographic limitations and post-Brexit arrangements with the EU as reasons why it would be unfeasible to host the processing of asylum seekers.
“Gibraltar is always ready to help the UK as part of the British family of nations,” Mr Picardo said.
“We play an important part in defence and are ready to consider any other way we can work with the UK.
“We have had magnificent help from the UK on the COVID-19 pandemic, from sovereign guarantees to vaccinations provided at no cost.
“We will not ever shirk our responsibility to help where we can.
“Our geography makes some things difficult, however, and the processing of asylum seekers to the UK in Gibraltar would be one of them.
“Immigration is an area of my responsibility as chief minister under the Gibraltar Constitution and I can confirm that this issue has not been raised with me at any level.
“I would have made clear this is not an area on which we believe we can assist the UK.”
However, Mr Picardo said he had told Ms Patel that Gibraltar is “ready to help in other areas”.
He praised the home secretary as a “strong supporter” of Gibraltar and also suggested he and Ms Patel should meet in London when COVID restrictions allow.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Isle of Man government said: “The Isle of Man is self-governing, the UK government would not be able to open any sort of processing centre on the island without consent.
“The UK government has not contacted the Isle of Man Government about any such proposal.”
According to The Times, the government believes sending migrants to third countries for processing would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is understood details of proposals to overhaul the UK’s asylum and immigration system will be published in the “coming weeks”.
Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick had earlier told Sky News: “This isn’t an announcement by the home secretary, this is speculation on work that she is doing and we’ll be saying more on in the weeks ahead.
“I can’t give you all the answers this morning but it is extremely important we have a robust immigration system and those people coming to the country to seek asylum can do so in safety.
“We don’t want anyone’s lives to be put at risk, we don’t want people to be at the hands of people traffickers.
“We’ve seen people, including young children dying making perilous crossings across the Channel.
“That isn’t something we want to see and so if there are safer and better ways of doing that, then we should be exploring them and that’s exactly what the home secretary is doing.”
A series of leaks last year suggested the UK government was considering a number of offshore policies akin to those used by Australia to process asylum seekers.
A Home Office source said: “Whilst people are dying making perilous journeys we would be irresponsible if we didn’t consider every avenue.”
In a written statement to parliament on Thursday, Ms Patel told MPs: “Looking ahead, as we reform the asylum system, Global Britain will continue its proud tradition of providing safe haven to those in need through safe and legal routes.”
The home secretary confirmed the UK had met a 2015 commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees fleeing conflict in Syria.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the UK government of “lurching from one inhumane, ridiculous proposal to another”.
“Last year they were talking about creating waves in the English Channel to wash boats back and buying ferries and oil rigs to process asylum claims,” he added.
“These absurd ideas show the government has lost control and all sense of compassion. Ministers must act to reopen safe routes, as promised, and deliver the promised agreement with France.”
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, said: “Offshoring the UK’s asylum system will do nothing to address the reasons people take dangerous journeys in the first place and will almost certainly have grave humanitarian consequences.
“Any reform to the asylum system needs to recognise the desperate reality of people making dangerous journeys because they want to feel safe and have very few, if any, alternative options.”