Updated | PM welcomes Busuttil’s call but takes umbrage over lack of cooperation comments

PN leader Simon Busuttil extends hand of cooperation and says government and opposition should seek a common front on irregular migration

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat welcomed a call by leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil to seek a common front on irregular migration, adding that the government was never against such a support.

He however took umbrage at comments by the PN leader who said the PN administration rarely enjoyed the Labour opposition’s support.

“We were never against a united front and I disagree with his [Busuttil] assumption that the Labour Party never supported the government. Maybe such a support is rarely reported and we did criticise but we always showed our support… something that was also recognised by former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi,” Muscat said.

Muscat this evening briefed the House of Representatives on his visit to Brussels last week during which he highlighted Malta’s efforts in placing irregular migration on top of the EU agenda.

Busuttil argued that 12 years of lobbying by the government had failed to translate in concrete results for Malta: “Malta has been facing irregular migration for 12 years and the government and opposition were never on the same side. The PN administration never had the opposition’s support. I don’t agree that such a delicate issue should be marred by partisan politics.”

Busuttil said he wanted the government and opposition to be on the same side: “The political division has only resulted in fanning xenophobia and fear.”

The Opposition leader said he would be ready to support government both on a national level and at EU level if the government agreed to politics that defended a person’s right to dignity.

“Human life is not negotiable and the priority should always be saving lives. Once these lives have been saved, we should move on controlling the influx of migrants to our shores. Every person reaching our shores should be treated with dignity and given their right to seek protection; if their request for protection is turned down, they should be sent back.”

Busuttil said applying pushbacks was unacceptable and the Opposition would never support it.

He added that if this sincere cooperation between the government and the opposition were to be effective, the government must keep the opposition informed on the matter.

Muscat said the clear reference to an effective implementation of solidarity and the fair sharing of responsibility was an important step.

“We have a tragedy on our doorstep. There are 17 crossings made during the night from Africa to Europe. No one knows where they are heading. Before we used to have a boat or two… now we have thousands crossing at one go.”

Muscat said the AFM resources were being used at full capacity to assist the Italian Mare Nostrum operation. He told MPs that while Malta so far had a minimal number of arrivals, this situation could change overnight.

“I am not in a position to say that the policy we have adopted will continue working because it can change any time.”