Over the past 25 years, governments and opposition parties in every part of the British political spectrum have tried to come up with a successful, fair and compassionate policy on immigration.
Tried and failed.
Nobody has come up with a perfect policy on this subject - least of all the more radical anti-establishment parties who loudly accuse all the establishment parties of having failed on the issue but whose own ideas, if they have any at all, range from the disastrous to the utterly impractical.
Much of this post will be about what the Conservatives are currently doing to address this extremely difficult issues, but as an illustration of the chasm between rhetoric and reality it is worth considering the record of the main opposition party and the difference between what they are saying now and were saying shortly before they last won an election and what actually happened when they were last in power.
When Labour were last in power their handling of immigration was marked by controversy, ministerial resignations, and 180 degree turns between policies which welcomed and facilitated significant immigration and policies so restrictive that they literally outflanked the Daily Mail.
An example of an extreme U-turn would be when ten countries joined the EU in 2004. Initially the New Labour government in Britain, which had been one of only three governments in the EU which said they would immediately offer freedom of movement to citizens of new members states in Eastern Europe from the first possible date. But having made the commitments two years before to give full rights of entry to all citizens of new member stares, they tried unsuccessfully to change their minds and slam on the brakes 48 hours before this promise was due to come into effect.
Needless to say the resulting chaos achieved neither the benefits which would have come from sticking to the original policy of being the only country in the EU to adopt freedom of movement on Day one nor those which would have come from adopting from the beginning the policy of every other EU government and phasing it in gradually.
Another example of a disruptive U-turn was when New Labour attempted to send overseas medical students home half way through their courses training to be doctors.
Examples of when Labour outflanked the Daily Mail in adopting restrictive policies on immigration included when they refused to let an elderly Gurkha veteran who had served in Britain's armed forces for years and been highly decorated come here for operation, and when Labour tried to deport to Zimbabwe someone who even the Daily Mail thought had a well founded case for political asylum as they would be persecuted by the Mugabe regime.
Here is a link to an interesting 2015 article in The Guardian about
How immigration came to haunt Labour: the inside story | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian
I quote this history not mainly to attack Labour (though there are plenty of opportunities to do that) but to indicate how difficult and complex the issue is.
But there are three reasons why the issue of small boat crossings much be tackled
First, it is killing people. Crossing the Channel in small boats is not safe.
Second, uncontrolled immigration into the UK would not be sustainable. The present level of net legal immigration is already over half a million. Adding tens of thousands on top of that is risking a threat to the ability of our infrastructure to cope and poses a risk to social cohesion.
Third, and this is an attack on the people smugglers who put their victims in dangerous boats, not an attack on the migrants, Britain and many other countries in the world, is the target of criminal gangs who are trafficking people because they want to get slave labour out of them. We need to break these criminal gangs.
This cannot be done without closer co-operation with our neighbours in France.
So yesterday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met the French President and secured a deal with President Macron to establish a new detention centre in France, the deployment of more French personnel, and enhanced technology to patrol beaches in a shared effort to drive down illegal migration.
This enhanced cooperation aims to increase the interception rate for attempted crossings and drastically reduce the number of crossings each year.
- This builds on the largest ever small boats deal the PM secured with France last year, which saw Border Force officers deployed to France for the first time, and the Stop the Boats Bill we announced this week to ensure nobody who enters the UK illegally can remain here.
- This will help the Conservative government make progress towards our promise to stop the boats. Yesterday’s announcement goes further than ever before to put an end to this vile trade in human life. Working together, the UK and France will ensure that nobody can exploit our systems.
We will do this by:
- Building a new detention centre for the first time to prevent the crossings in the first place. We will establish a detention centre in France for the first time, to enhance the country’s ability to cope with the level of people being trafficked across the Channel. This new centre will support French efforts to increase detention capacity, allowing more migrants who might otherwise travel by dangerous and illegal routes to the UK to be removed from the French coast.
- Ramping up boots on the ground to take down the people smugglers and stop the boats. Hundreds of extra French law enforcement officers will use enhanced technology and intelligence insight to prevent illegal Channel crossings. This will more than double the number of personnel deployed in northern France to tackle small boats, with over half of these in place by the end of the year.
- Delivering as an unparalleled multi-year agreement to put pressure on the people smugglers taking lasting action. This agreement for three years, builds on joint measures taken with France in 2022 which increased patrols by 40 per cent.
- Enhancing cooperation to boost the interception rate for attempted crossings and drastically reduce the number of crossings each year. Efforts will be bolstered by a new, highly trained, permanent French mobile policing unit dedicated to tackling small boats. Additional drones, aircraft and other technologies like surveillance will also be deployed, as the UK and France step up intelligence sharing to clamp down on people trafficking routes. A new 24/7 zonal coordination centre, with permanent UK liaison officers. The coordination centre will bring all relevant French law enforcement partners together for the first time to coordinate the response, building on our existing joint work with France, which prevented nearly 33,000 Channel crossings in 2022.
- Legislating through the Illegal Migration Bill to deter illegal immigration and ensure that those people with a genuine case to come to Britain have a better chance of coming here legally than illegally. Measures in the bill will remove the incentive for people to risk their lives through dangerous and unnecessary journeys and pull the rug from under the criminal gangs profiting from this misery once and for all. Illegal migrants will be detained and swiftly removed to their home country if safe, or another safe third country, such as Rwanda, where they will be supported to rebuild their lives.
This plan is not perfect. it's difficult to see that any solution could be. But it begins a way forward.