Many people have been warning that the kind of tragedy that happened today in the English Channel was inevitable. The world’s busiest shipping lane does not lend itself to small dinghies crossing the seaway even in the most clement of weathers. Today the inevitable happened and 27 people lost their lives. Over the next few days there will be a lot of handwringing on both sides of the channel from all sorts of different people. Politicians will look mournful and appear on television expressing sympathy and condolences. They will vow to take any measures possible to ensure this sort of tragedy never happens again. And they’ll be talking bollocks.
We bandy about the words ‘migrants’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘refugees’, all of which tend to dehumanize individual people. And that’s what those who drowned today are – people. They are people who made the same choices you or I would have made were we in their circumstances in Iran, Syria, Somalia, or wherever they have come from. We too would have wanted to escape the purgatory we were born into. We would have made every effort to improve our own lives and those of our families. It’s a perfectly rational choice. Bur why comes to Britain? Why not stay in France, or the first safe country we landed in? The reasons are perfectly simple. People want to come to the UK because they may have family here already. They can invariably speak English, rather than French, German, Greek or Italian. They know there are jobs available here. They know that our society is rather more welcoming to immigrants than say, to pick a country at random, France. And you know what? We should be proud of that. We should be proud that people want to come here. Contrary to what many on the liberal left like to believe, Britain is still a country which commands huge respect all over the world.
There are four reasons why the events of today happened. British policy is to blame. French policy is to blame. The migrants are to blame for making the trip in the first place. And the people traffickers are to blame most of all. What I don’t understand is why they’re still plying their illegal trade. The British, French and EU authorities know who these people are, so why they’re not being arrested and banged up for many years, is a mystery to me. The French have arrested four people traffickers tonight. Perhaps if they had been arrested a week ago, 31 people might not have lost their lives. It is about time the security authorities in both France and Britain got tough and left no stone unturned in hunting down the people traffickers and halting their disgusting activities. If you want to kill a snake, make sure you cut off its head first.
Channel 4 News have broadcast footage of French gendarmes just looking on as boats start their perilous journeys. They could easily stop them by disabling the dinghies. They are armed, after all, I believe. Why don’t they? Because they’ve presumably been told not to. If France wanted to stop the dinghies they could easily do so. After all, they’ve secured the Port of Calais (using tens of millions of pounds from Britain) by building high quality fences along all the roads going into the port. It’s almost impossible for people to jump onto trucks now. The problem is that all this has achieved is to displace the issue to further down the coast.
In terms of the politics, it is clear that nothing will change unless Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron make it change. It has to come from the top. However, given Macron’s electoral issues, will he really be willing to go that extra mile and do what it takes? I somehow doubt it. We’ll have to wait until April’s presidential election for that to happen.
Meanwhile, the British government will have to muddle through. The Home Office is devoid of ideas, which is presumably why the Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay has been brought in to shake things up. Strangely, I think this is a good thing for Priti Patel, as she’s clearly come to the conclusion that her own department still isn’t ‘fit for purpose’ to coin John Reid’s famous phrase. One thing that they could both do is to transform our asylum system so that all claims are processed within a year. At the moment people’s claims can wait for ten years before they’re finalized. That itself makes Britain an attractive proposition.
There are so many myths surrounding immigration. Many people still believe that our benefits system is a prime motivating factor behind people’s wish to come here. It’s nonsense. Sure, there may be one or two bad apples who want to fleece the system, but the overwhelming majority of people who come here do so because they are grateful to us for taking them in and they want to give something back. And we live at a time when we have some chronic labour shortages.
We take in far fewer asylum seekers or refugees than all of our comparable European neighbours. Yes, our population density is higher than France or Germany, but it’s fatuous to say, as some people do, that we’re ‘full up’. Only the dense or racist really believe that.
Britain has a proud tradition of offering refuge to those in need and in today’s troubled world, we need to do more than our bit. We need to show compassion, empathy and understanding, while at the same time making clear that as a country we do not and never can believe in open borders. Name me a country that does.