Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tells Dublin not to send gardai to police the Irish border

The Prime Minister has urged the Irish Government not to send police into border areas amid a row over asylum seekers crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

Rishi Sunak said Dublin “must uphold its promises” to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and avoid setting up checkpoints to prevent asylum seekers entering the country.

Diplomatic tensions between London and Dublin have increased in recent days after Ireland’s justice minister claimed there had been an upsurge in asylum seekers crossing the border following the passing of the UK’s Safety of Rwanda Act.

On Tuesday, the Irish Government said 100 police officers would be made available for frontline immigration enforcement duties, although officials insisted they would not be “assigned to physically police the border with Northern Ireland”.

Answering questions in the Commons, Mr Sunak said ministers were seeking “urgent clarification that there will be no disruption or police checkpoints at or near the border” and that there must not be “cherry-picking of important international agreements”.

He added: “Now, it’s no surprise that our robust approach to illegal migration is providing a deterrent but the answer is not sending police to villages in Donegal. It’s to work with us in partnership to strengthen our external borders all around the Common Travel Area that we share.”

His comments came in response to a question from DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who accused the Irish government of “hypocrisy” given its stance on the border during Brexit negotiations.

Downing Street has repeatedly stressed that the UK is under no legal obligation to accept returns of asylum seekers from Ireland, and would not do so while France continued to refuse to accept returns from the UK.

There is an operational agreement on the Common Travel Area with Ireland which Dublin says provides for returning asylum seekers, but the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said this was not legally binding and nobody had been returned to the UK under its terms.

One person has been returned to Ireland under the agreement since it was signed four years ago, the spokesman added.

On Wednesday, the spokesman said: “We obviously work with them on a range of issues, including in relation to security issues in the Common Travel Area, but the UK has no obligation to accept returns.”

Labour said it agreed with the government that the UK should not accept returns from Ireland “while Britain is not able to return people who arrive here from the EU”.

The government has claimed the reported increase in asylum seekers entering Ireland from Northern Ireland demonstrated that its Rwanda scheme was already acting as a deterrent.

Irish premier Simon Harris confirmed there will be no police sent to border areas.

Asked if the UK Government had sought clarification from Dublin that there will be no police checkpoints at the border, Mr Harris said he had “no idea”.

Speaking in Dublin on Wednesday about reports of border police, he said: “Of course there won’t be.

“I’m not getting involved in British politics and I’m very well aware there is local elections due in the UK tomorrow and I’ve no interest as Taoiseach of this country of being involved in day to day back and forth in the House of Commons.

“But what I do have an interest in is agreements. Agreements between two countries and I very much welcome the British Prime Minister’s comments in relation to the importance of countries upholding agreements. We’ll uphold the agreement we have with Britain under the Common Travel Area, the standard operating procedure that we have in place.

“I also welcome the comments of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, where he referred to the importance of the two countries working together to protect the Common Travel Area from abuses.

“Regularising our laws in relation to the arrangement we have with Britain is only one of a number of things we intend to do to ensure we have a firm, effective migration system.

“I think that is the bigger thing that has been done in recent days by my colleague Minister for Justice (Helen McEntee) is around faster processing times for people from Nigeria. I believe that will have a more significant impact in the weeks and months ahead.”

It is not clear how many asylum seekers have crossed the border into Ireland.

Irish deputy prime minister Micheal Martin said his colleague Helen McEntee’s figure of 80% of total border crossings was not “evidenced-based”, while DUP MP Ian Paisley told the Commons it was “made up”.

Downing Street said it did not have data on crossings as the border is not policed.

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