Sunak warns of migrant threat as UK and Italy agree to fund Tunisia plan

ITV News Political Correspondent Tom Sheldrick has the latest from Rishi Sunak's visit to Rome

The UK and Italy will jointly finance a plan to return migrants in Tunisia to their home countries, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned of the threat of migration to “overwhelm” European states.

Mr Sunak used a gathering of Italian conservatives and right-wingers to issue a stark warning of the threat posed by illegal migration, as he suggested that changes to global refugee rules might be needed.

During the day-long trip to Rome Mr Sunak met Italian prime minster Giorgia Meloni, with whom he has developed a strong partnership.

They also held talks with Albania’s prime minister Edi Rama, another ally in their efforts to crack down on illegal migration.

Mr Sunak spoke while in Rome on Saturday. Credit: AP

Number 10 said that after the talks Mr Sunak and Ms Meloni had agreed to co-fund a project that would see the two countries “promote and assist the voluntary return” of migrants currently stuck in Tunisia.

Tunisia neighbours Italy just across the Mediterranean and attracts many migrants from several African countries who begin their journey to Europe there.

In a speech to the Atreju event organised by Ms Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, Mr Sunak said radical solutions, such as his Rwanda plan, were needed to protect countries’ borders.

Saying that “enemies” want to use migration as a “weapon”, he added: “If we do not tackle this problem, the numbers will only grow. It will overwhelm our countries and our capacity to help those who actually need our help the most.

“If that requires us to update our laws and lead an international conversation to amend the post-war frameworks around asylum, then we must do that.

“Because if we don’t fix this problem now, the boats will keep coming and more lives will be lost at sea.”

The rhetoric comes as hardliners on the Tory right push Mr Sunak to block interference from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Refugee Convention amid efforts to stop Channel crossings.

He had warm praise too for Ms Meloni, as Downing Street confirmed that the UK would join her “Rome Process” alliance of Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa countries aimed at tackling the root causes of migration.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk was among those at the Atreju event, which has been attended by former Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in the past.

Mr Sunak and Ms Meloni embraced as Mr Sunak prime minister left the stage, to loud applause from the audience.

Touching on their shared admiration of long-serving Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, he said “I can only guess what first attracted Giorgia to the strong female leader who was prepared to challenge the consensus, take on stale thinking and revive her country both domestically and on the international stage.”

He said that Baroness Thatcher’s “radicalism and drive” had to be applied to the issue of illegal migration, as he warned: “It is a fundamental tenet of sovereignty that it is us who should decide who comes to our countries and not criminal gangs.

Giorgia Meloni (centre) welcomes Rishi Sunak Albania's Prime Minister Edy Rama. Credit: AP

“If we cannot deliver on that, our voters will lose patience with us and the way in which their countries are run and rightly so.”

The speech came in a week in which Mr Sunak moved a step forward in his efforts to revive the Rwanda scheme, declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Despite speculation of a major rebellion by Tory MPs, the PM comfortably won a key Commons vote on legislation designed to insulate the scheme from legal challenges.

Some 292 people made the crossing in seven boats on Friday, according to Home Office figures published on Saturday.

It was confirmed a migrant died and another was left in a critical condition during an incident on Friday.

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