Meloni and Sunak joined forces and struck a deal on illegal migration.

Rishi Sunak has joined forces with the Italian prime minister to campaign for a crackdown on illegal migration as he hailed “growing interest” among European leaders in Rwanda-style deals.

Giorgia Meloni, who as Italy’s premier has defended Britain’s deal with Rwanda, agreed at a meeting in India to rally support for measures to tackle rising levels of illegal migration.

Mr Sunak sees Rwanda-style deals to process asylum claims in third countries as key to reducing illegal arrivals, along with returns deals such as the one struck between the UK and Albania to speed up the deportation of illegal migrants.

Speaking at the G20 Summit in Delhi, the Prime Minister suggested that the two leaders would use Italy’s turn to host the G7 next year, and his chairmanship of a summit of European leaders, to “bring people together to talk about this issue”.

Last week, Austria became the latest EU country to break ranks to demand that Brussels follow Britain’s policy of sending illegal migrants to Rwanda for their asylum claims to be processed. Mr Sunak said similar moves in Europe were showing that “where we lead others will follow”.

Amid significant pressure from Red Wall MPs and voters to fulfil his pledge to stop the passage of small boats carrying migrants across the Channel, Mr Sunak also revealed that he was pushing Narendra Modi for a strengthened returns agreement with India amid Government concern about a significant increase in illegal arrivals from the country.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Mr Modi at the G20 on Saturday, the Prime Minister said: “Without getting into the specifics of the conversations I have, which I never do… In general, across the board, we are trying to find opportunities to strengthen returns agreements. We have done that and we are doing that with other countries as well. We will always try and find ways we can improve our returns agreements, that is definitely something we want to do.”

Mr Sunak’s meeting with Ms Meloni followed earlier discussions over the issue between the two leaders, who came into office within days of each other in October last year. 

The leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party came to power on a pledge to block migrant boats in the Mediterranean but, as of last month, crossings from North Africa to Italy had more than doubled year-on-year to around 106,000.

Following a visit to London to meet Mr Sunak, 43, in April, the Italian prime minister, 46, defended Britain’s agreement with Rwanda, stating: “I think that talking about deportation or suggesting that Rwanda would be a country that does not respect rights and would be an inadequate or unworthy nation is a racist way of interpreting things.”

On Saturday, following his meeting with Ms Meloni in Delhi, Mr Sunak said: “In my first speech I said Britain will be tough but fair. And where we lead others will follow. And I think that is starting to be shown to be true. You’re seeing lots of other countries look at solutions, different ways of tackling this problem, whether it’s people in northern Europe, whether it’s Denmark, whether it’s Austria, whether it’s others. And so there is growing interest in how we can do this, and I always talk to other leaders about it, and in fact, I did yesterday.

“I sat down and had a meeting and a drink with Giorgia, the prime minister of Italy. Obviously this is something that her and I have talked about a lot and we talked again about how we can work closer together, which we’re already doing, but again, what are the opportunities for us to do more together to tackle this shared challenge?”

The Prime Minister added: “Italy are chairing the G7 next year, we’re hosting the European Political Community Summit next year. We were just talking about those moments, those opportunities to bring people together to talk about this issue. So she and I have a view together, both of us, that this is an important topic that needs us to work together. So that won’t be the last of these conversations that I have.”

Ms Meloni tweeted that the meeting had been “a pleasant and useful opportunity for discussion”, including on the “fundamental issue” of migration “on which we are ready to intensify our bilateral cooperation”.

The populist Italian leader, who conducted an interview with the New York Times last year while sipping an Aperol Spritz and smoking a cigarette, opted for the same drink during her chat with Mr Sunak on Saturday, while the Prime Minister stuck with water.

The Government is currently awaiting a Supreme Court hearing in which ministers will challenge a Court of Appeal ruling that its plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda were unlawful.

Separately, under a deal struck last year, Albania was put on a par with “safe” EU nations, with the intention that the vast majority of claims by Albanians could be declared unfounded and those individuals swiftly deported.

In July, The Telegraph disclosed that ministers were seeking a separate, “bespoke” arrangement with Turkey, along with an “enhanced” version of the deal currently in place with India. UK sources have said that Indian officials “come up with weird and wonderful ways” to obstruct the return of migrants who travel to the UK via the Channel.

Mr Sunak and Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, are understood to be concerned about an increase in illegal arrivals from the country after Indians overtook Albanians to become the second biggest contingent crossing the Channel earlier this year.

On Saturday the Prime Minister added: “We’ve had enormous success with that with Albania in particular, where we’ve returned over 3,000 illegal migrants to Albania over the past few months thanks to the deal I struck and the new way we approach illegal migrants from Albania in the UK and that’s led to a 90 per cent fall in illegal crossings from Albania this year.

“So it just shows that those things can be very powerful, so we are always looking for opportunities to strengthen that.”

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