It is a political mystery that those who claim that Britain is a small, irrelevant country always insist that we have a unique responsibility to solve the problems of the world, while those who say that we are exceptionally bad – prejudice and racist – demands that ministers allow hundreds of thousands. of migrants to move and live here, probably in misery.
The response to the crisis in the English Channel has been staggering. Before the tragic deaths of 27 migrants on Wednesday, many self-proclaimed progressives had declared the crossing a non-issue, insisting that the Tories foolishly “talked themselves into a crisis” and “make voters worry” by knocking on migrant boats.
Some argue that the crossings are because Britain has not established enough safe routes for asylum seekers, as if the migrants on the French coast had not already reached safety in Europe, and the people who made the voyage – disproportionately young, male, healthy and prosperous enough to pay human traffickers – are the same people who would come to the UK through resettlement schemes. Even more frankly, Keir Starmer claims the transitions are caused by cuts in international aid spending.
The Labor Party has at least understood that there is a humanitarian danger, but refuses to accept that the canal crossings are also a challenge for border security and immigration control. If they were honest, they would explain that their solution is to bring tens of thousands of migrants directly from France – a safe country – to seek asylum in Britain.
From a humanitarian perspective and for the sake of border control, the transitions are a serious problem and they must be stopped. Ultimately, Britain needs a whole new asylum system and reformed human rights laws that allow us to defend our borders, control immigration and – more broadly – protect ourselves from serious crime and terrorism. These solutions will require patience and time, but when we face this crisis, we are blessed with none of them.
The best quick solution is an agreement with France. Ministers there are frustrated with Britain: they believe our soft immigration system and open labor market are pulling migrants to their north coast to travel here. And they are right. But they have also deliberately fueled the crisis. The French authorities have been watching while migrants have climbed aboard flimsy boats and their fleet has escorted dinghies away from French waters, leaving them to the British authorities to come to the rescue.
To behave in such a way is undoubtedly tempting for President Macron. Like many of his predecessors, he imagines himself as a Latter-day Napoleon sitting on the continent and dominating others. He enjoys threatening to punish Britain for Brexit, and with elections next year he will avoid letting opponents claim he is acting as Britain’s border police.
Yet Macron also faces problems. He has convened an emergency meeting of EU ministers to discuss the crisis. However, as a member of the Schengen area, France cannot, under normal circumstances, do anything to stop migrants entering Europe by crossing its own borders. And the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that asylum must be sought in the first safe country a migrant enters, does not work. Unless Macron stops the boats leaving the French coastline, more migrants will continue to come to France.
So an agreement with France is possible. If no agreement can be reached, Britain should challenge France for not fulfilling its obligations under the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants. But it will take time, the consequences will still be limited, and the crisis will continue. Without any agreement, the second quick approach is to pass emergency legislation, override human rights laws and impose long sentences in new detention facilities for those entering the country illegally, coming from a safe country and refusing to leave the UK.
In the longer term, we need to tighten our labor market legislation, process asylum applications offshore and enter into agreements with other countries to provide refuge to some of those applying for asylum here. And if the reform calls for exceptions or complete derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights, that is what we should be prepared to do.