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UK immigration - Blair defends cooperation with EU

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that the UK's cooperation with the European Union on immigration and asylum issues is justified, the Scotsman newspaper reports.

OnJanuary 31 a spokesman for Mr. Blair said that agreements onimmigration and asylum made with the EU over the past few years wereintended to stop "asylum shopping" and ensure that applicants are dealtwith in the first European country they enter. According to thespokesman, this could only be done through a combination of measures,including collaboration with neighbouring European states.

Thisfollows reconfirmation on January 30 from opposition leader MichaelHoward that if elected the Conservative Party will try to withdraw fromthe 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and put a limit on the number ofasylum seekers taken in by Britain. The European Commission has saidsuch a move would be in breach of agreements the UK has concluded withBrussels.

Mr. Blair's spokesman said the UK retained the rightnot to sign up to EU asylum measures if it disagreed with them, butthat the ones that it had joined were "interlocking" and had to betreated as a whole entity in order to stop asylum shopping. He furtherpointed out that pulling out of the UN refugee agreement wouldcontravene British law, since it is integrated into the EuropeanConvention on Human Rights - separate from the EU - and is part ofBritish law under the Human Rights Act.