Does Boris Johnson care about the increasing numbers of migrants who are risking their lives by crossing the English Channel — and putting enormous pressure on our hard-pressed social services if they succeed?
Almost six times as many migrants made the crossing last month as in October 2020.
A total of 2,669 migrants completed the journey in small boats despite the poor weather. Some 1,185 accomplished it on a single day a week ago, and more than 1,000 on Tuesday.
Three migrants have perished this month attempting to cross the Channel.
Come to that, an estimated 300 people have died doing so over the past two decades, most of whom had put themselves in the hands of unscrupulous ‘people smugglers’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured leaving Downing Street on Wednesday amid increasing numbers of migrants arriving to the UK via the English Channel
Home Secretary Priti Patel described the asylum system as ‘dysfunctional’ on Tuesday following the Liverpool hospital terror attack
Meanwhile, the case of Emad Al Swealmeen, who died when his bomb detonated outside a Liverpool hospital on Sunday, highlights the problem of failed asylum seekers who may pose a threat to the public.
He had lost his application to stay in Britain but was somehow still here.
Priti Patel, who has been Home Secretary for two years and four months, described the asylum system as ‘dysfunctional’ on Tuesday, as though it was nothing to do with her.
She blames ‘a whole professional legal services industry’ for what she describes as ‘a complete merry-go-round’.
She might also have mentioned the Church of England, which has apparently converted hundreds of Muslim asylum seekers to Christianity.
It appears that embracing Christianity significantly increases the chances of a migrant being given asylum — and decreases the likelihood of being sent back to an Islamic country.
Not that the chances of that happening are very great. In 2012, 12,552 failed asylum seekers were returned to their home countries.
By last year, the number had dwindled to just 1,484.
If you make it across the Channel, you’ll probably be able to stay, even if you are supposed to go.
Can anyone doubt that this is a serious crisis, which is almost bound to get worse as ever-greater numbers of people make their way across the 21-odd miles that separate Britain from France?
Of course, one could take the view that anyone who wants to come to this country under the guise of being a refugee should be welcomed with open arms.
Emad Al-Swealmeen, 32, has been identified as the man responsible for a terror attack outside the front entrance of a hospital in Liverpool just before 11am on Sunday
That is the standpoint of the Refugee Council, which seeks to work on behalf of refugees.
Yesterday morning, the BBC baldly reported that the Refugee Council disputed Priti Patel’s recent claim that 70 per cent of arrivals are ‘economic migrants’.
This rejection was quoted as though it were Holy Writ. The Refugee Council was obviously right, and Ms Patel and the Home Office were obviously wrong.
But the Refugee Council’s ‘research’ was little more than an assertion.
Enver Solomon, its chief executive, avers: ‘The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression’.
He’s only partly right. In any case, these people shouldn’t be trying to force their way into the UK.
By the way, the last time I looked, France — where such people are entitled to stay — was not a centre for persecution, terror and oppression.
We can’t pin that particular charge on President Emmanuel Macron.
No, I believe most British people, while properly sympathetic to true refugees and aware of our human obligations towards them, don’t take the view of the Refugee Council (and apparently the BBC) that virtually anyone who turns up on the English coast should have an automatic right of residence.
I also suggest that there are many like me who are baffled by the Government’s unwillingness or failure to establish control of our borders, which in my naivety I had thought was one of the main purposes of Brexit.
Indeed, according to a substantial poll of 12,369 voters on June 23, 2016 (the day of the Referendum) one third ranked regaining ‘control over immigration and [the UK’s] borders’ as the main reason for voting to leave the EU.
Even some Remainers were in favour of controlling immigration.
As recently as 2019, a comprehensive survey found that 39 per cent of the population thought the level of immigration about right, while 44 per cent wanted it to be further reduced.
Another poll in the same year — when numbers crossing the Channel were much smaller than they are now, and the crisis was less acute — revealed that nearly half of respondents had little or no sympathy for asylum seekers entering the UK by that route, with only 19 per cent having ‘a great deal of sympathy’.
Migrants arriving in Kent earlier this week via a boat across the English Channel
If Boris Johnson and Priti Patel decided to fulfil their sacred Brexit pledge of controlling our borders, and strove to stem the tide of asylum seekers, they would almost certainly enjoy overwhelming popular support.
The BBC, which largely ignores the influx, or sides with the Refugee Council, isn’t reflecting public opinion.
Why doesn’t the Government get a grip? No one should question Priti Patel’s desire to act. The trouble is that while talking tough, she flits from one robust, even hard-line, policy to another without ever achieving much.
In January 2020, she threatened to send anyone smuggled in by gangs straight back to where they came from.
So far no migrants have been returned to France. Of the 23,000-plus migrants who have arrived here by boat this year, only five have been returned to Europe.
In May 2020, the fire-breathing Home Secretary vowed to turn back migrant boats to France even if they were in British waters.
No agreement has been reached with Paris. Last June, UK Border Force vessels obliged by entering French waters to help bring a migrant boat to Dover.
French President Emmanuel Macron. No agreement has been reached with Paris regarding the return of migrants
It’s true that the Nationality and Borders Bill is wending its way through Parliament.
It contains some sensible measures, such as harsher penalties for people smugglers, but few think that it will change very much.
Conspicuously missing in the Bill is any provision to create an offshore immigration processing centre for asylum seekers.
Last July, the Home Office floated the idea of setting up such a system, possibly in conjunction with Denmark in a country such as Rwanda, but the practical and legal objections are judged to be almost insuperable.
What is surely clear is that relying on France to restrict numbers is a fruitless exercise. Despite being handed tens of millions of pounds by the Government, the French authorities either can’t make much difference, or won’t.
The UK Government indisputably faces a formidable challenge. I’m not at all sure whether, with her penchant for threats she doesn’t carry out, Priti Patel is the best minister to be in charge. Even if she is, she needs more support from the Prime Minister.
Which brings me back to my question: Does Boris really care?
Four days after the EU Referendum, he wrote a column in the Daily Telegraph in which he doubted whether ‘those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration’.
But lots of people do care — most especially Brexit supporters and Tory voters, not least those in the ‘Red Wall’.
Boris Johnson would be wise to take much more seriously a crisis that could turn into a catastrophe.