We need another referendum. This should be the question on the ballot paper:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the United Nations Refugee Convention or leave the United Nations Refugee Convention?

Non-EU immigration is just as out of control as EU immigration. Last year’s referendum result and the triggering of article 50 gives hope that something may be done about EU immigration. But what about non-EU immigration?

The problem of EU immigration had a single source – the right of free movement for EU workers. But the problem of non-EU immigration has a number of different sources. These include abuse of the student visa system and abuse of family reunion rights; but here my focus is on the seemingly unlimited obligation to take in refugees.

The UK’s legal obligation to take in refugees derives from its ratification of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. If the UK were to revoke, that is leave, this Convention then its legal obligation to take in refugees would stop.

I believe the 1951 Refugee Convention is wrong in principle, unworkable in practice, and that the British people deserve a referendum specifically on the issue.

Wrong in principle

The Refugee Convention is wrong in principle because it confuses charity with duty. To grant a right to enter and permanently reside in one ‘s own country to a citizen of another country solely on the grounds of war, persecution or poverty in that country, for which one’s own country in in no way responsible, is an act of national charity not duty. It is to give something that there is no prior obligation, legal or moral, to give. Just as there is no duty on a person to give money to charity even if he can well afford to, and even less if he can’t afford to, there should be no obligation on a country to give to a poorer country. A nation may choose to be charitable to a poorer or war-stricken country either by making direct aid payments of by taking in refugees from that country. But this should be a decision of the country in question in each individual case and not something extracted out of the country as part of a legally-binding international convention.

Unworkable in practice

The obligation to take in refugees under the 1951 Convention is also often unworkable in practice.

First, the obligation is unlimited – the definition of a refugee (as interpreted by the courts) is now so wide that even if only genuine refugees were let into the UK the figure would probably amount to millions if not 10s of millions of people.  It is true that fortunately not all of these millions of people have the financial means to pay the people smugglers to get to the UK. But it is unsatisfactory to rely on this practical consideration to do the work which should be done by immigration law, namely to control our borders.

Secondly, the need for a judicial process to try to distinguish the genuine from the fraudulent refugees gives rise to the huge cost of dealing with asylum-seekers. An asylum-seeker is someone who has entered the UK and claimed asylum but who is still awaiting their claim to refugee status to be determined by the courts.  The determining of an asylum claim, with all the convoluted appeals involved, can take up to 5 years. During this whole time, the asylum-seeker has to be accommodated and supported at public expense as well as having their often enormous legal costs met by the taxpayer.

Thirdly, even if the claim for refugee status fails only some 40% of failed asylum-seekers are actually deported.  This is partly because of “human rights” reasons. But even where this does not apply deportation will often be genuinely difficult. It is standard practice for asylum-seekers either not to bring their passports or to destroy them en route to the UK. As a consequence establishing their true nationality can be difficult. Many of the countries from which the asylum-seekers originate will refuse to take them back in the absence of a passport or other proof of their nationality.

Why a referendum is needed

But whether or not you agree with me that the Refugee Convention wrong in principle and unworkable in practice the question is of such importance that it should be referred to the British people to decide in a referendum. A country belongs to its citizens. The only authority to give away a country comes from its own people.

It is of course true that the UK’s accession to the Refugee Convention has been since its conception, and is now, fully agreed to by the UK government: to this extent its imposition on the UK can claim democratic legitimacy. But this is representative democracy which we know from experience is not always very representative. For example in the EU referendum campaign all the UK’s major political parties (apart from UKIP), and an overwhelming majority in both Houses of Parliament supported  Remain, but the majority of the electorate, when given a chance to vote, supported Leave.

Mass immigration of third world “refugees” (and their dependants who they subsequently sponsor to join them) effects a permanent and irreversible change in the demography, character and culture of the host country. It can threaten to overwhelm the indigenous population and turn them into a minority in their own country. For this reason authority by representative democracy is inadequate.  Continued accession to the Refugee Convention should be authorised by a referendum specifically on the issue.