Stopping small boats is the number one priority of the British people. So said the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the House of Commons this week. Really? That’s demonstrably untrue. Why does he say it the? What is the motivation behind this lie?
Well, because if we are talking about small boats, we’re not talking about the deepening Tory-made cost of living crisis, soaring energy bills or eye-watering level of inflation. The Tories believe that they are on to winner by dividing public opinion on migration. It’s politics. And it’s ugly.
Next week, Parliament will spend two days discussing a series of measures against some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The language used is important. When the Home Secretary talks of an invasion, when she creates a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’, she does so for a particular reason.
The intent is to suggest a hostile hoard massing on our shores. A threat to our wellbeing and way of life. In truth these migrants are amongst the most wretched of the earth. They have lived through trauma and pain the likes of which most of us will never see.
Tory backbenchers try to pretend there are a million or more people trying to get to the UK illegally. In truth, around 3,000 people have come in small boats this year. On average maybe 35 people a day.
It is terrifying to watch this debate at close quarters. Civilised people who ought to know better than espousing narratives that we usually identify with far right and totalitarian governments.
The centrepiece of the Government’s ‘Illegal’ Migration Bill is to remove the right to claim asylum from anyone who arrives in this country without permission. It hopes that this will deter people getting into the boats in Calais in the first place. But the boats have only developed because the Government has effectivity closed any legal way of getting here.
Last year, for instance, the Government’s official scheme for Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban allowed entry to just 22 people. It’s little wonder that more than 8,500 Afghans were amongst those who made the treacherous journey across the channel.
The problem for the Government is that those fleeing persecution have rights enshrined in international law. This doesn’t seem to worry most Tory MPs though. They seem content to break international agreements and preside over our expulsion from the Council of Europe, following in the footsteps of Russia and Belarus.
The other problem with the bill is this: it just won’t work. People will still come because the horrors in front of them will be as nothing to the horrors they leave behind. Instead of being granted asylum, they will be locked up in camps, in a state of limbo, awaiting deportation to Rwanda or elsewhere. This will of course cost the taxpayer a fortune and leave Britain’s international reputation in tatters.
It doesn’t have to be this way. This country could accept its fair share of asylum seekers and refugees. We could provide legal routes for them to come here. We could employ enough staff to make sure their applications are determined quickly and fairly. We could let them work and pay tax whilst this happened. That is the sort of policy Scotland could pursue if it had the powers to do so.