Politics Explained

Is the Tory infatuation with absolute sovereignty leading its immigration policy down a dark path?

If Priti Patel wants to pursue an Australian/Abbott-style approach, she will again have to resile the UK from another pillar of international law and standards of humanity, writes Sean O’Grady

Wednesday 21 July 2021 22:04
<p>The home secretary wants to pass legislation that trims and erodes the rights of asylum seekers</p>

The home secretary wants to pass legislation that trims and erodes the rights of asylum seekers

Watching Priti Patel paddling her way through her session with the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee any observer would be reminded of an unsafe dinghy, its destination vaguely set, but with more hope than expectation of arriving safely. Indeed, Ms Patel has committed a further £54m a year to pay the French border authorities to help bring back control of Britain’s borders. If past experiences is anything to go by, it will fail.

To be fair to the French, the number of boats intercepted before they get a chance to land on the British coast has been increasing – but so has the number of migrants getting through, roughly double the levels prevailing last year. Leaving aside moral, legal and economic arguments for a moment the sight (frankly) of people of colour, often young men, turning up in this informal fashion on the Kent coast has sent the Tory press, Tory MPs and Nigel Farage apoplectic. With no sense of proportion it is termed an “invasion” and their are self-fulfilling predictions of anger and citizen vigilantism. It may only be matter of time before pro- and anti-migrant/asylum activists mass on the beaches around Dungeness and Folkestone and scrap with the Coastguard, RNLI, police and Border Force officials over control of these bewildered groups of people. Having escaped civil wars in their own lands looking for peace and safety, they will find themselves caught in the cross-fire of a full-blown British culture war.

For about a quarter of a century British home secretaries have tried to “sort out” asylum and immigration, and failed. For a decade the official immigration limit of 100,000 has been missed, and has now been scrapped. Brexit has brought little change in terms of non-EU movement of people. Ms Patel wants to pass legislation that trims and erodes the rights of asylum seekers and the freedoms of those who wish to assist them find refuge. She says, perfectly fairly, that the system can be abused, and she wants to crack down on the people trafficking gangs. Yet it is not clear whether her measures will indeed do that. The numbers moving across continents and across the English Channel (often simply overstaying a visa or hiding in a vehicle) are simply too large. Like water flowing downhill, there will always be a route of least resistance, and it will be found. The migrants, of whatever description, will always get through. The old arrangements and cooperation with the French and EU have disappeared, post-Brexit.

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