Stopping the Boats

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.


Paul Holdsworth said…
I've hesitated to comment on the substance of your defence of the Illegal Immigration Bill, because that defence is so desperately poor it feels like I'd be simply stating the obvious. But let me try.

You say "there are three reasons why the issue of small boat crossings (must) be tackled." Of those three reasons, only one is valid - the first.

One: small boat crossings are killing people - a sound and valid reason for attempting to deter them.

Then, unfortunately, it all goes pear-shaped.

Two: "uncontrolled immigration into the UK would not be sustainable". That's called a false dichotomy, isn't it Chris? The choice is not between just two options - criminalising everyone who lands on our shores via small boats, regardless of the validity of their claims for asylum, and "uncontrolled immigration". In fact, no sensible commentator is calling for the total removal of all immigration controls. It's a completely spurious argument.

Three: "this is an attack on the people smugglers who put their victims in dangerous boats, not an attack on the migrants". No, Chris, No! This Bill explicitly criminalises every victim of the people smugglers, no matter the validity or otherwise of any asylum claim they might make. Your statement couldn't be more untrue!
Chris Whiteside said…
Well, I am glad we agree that small boat crossings are killing people and that this is a sound and valid reason for trying to deter them.

That is a fairly important point of agreement.

Where I would have to disagree with you is that, even though nobody admits, perhaps not even to themselves, that they are arguing for unrestricted immigration, the de facto practical effect of not putting an effective plan in place to stop the boats would amount to unrestricted immigration

And further, the de facto practical effect of trying to stop the boats only by providing more safe and legal routes would also amount to unrestricted immigration.

Net LEGAL immigration into the UK is currently running at over half a million a year.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, and I support the policies which have allowed it: Britain has issued 200,000 visas to Ukrainian refugees, which I support. We have taken tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and tens of thousands of people fleeing persecution in Hong Kong, which I support. We have also recruited tens of thousands of overseas medical professionals for the NHS. In the long term I believe we should be training more doctors, but it takes two decades to train a consultant. Because successive governments of all parties have failed to train enough medical professionals for thirty years, we have no alternative in the short term but to recruit them from abroad.

The very fact that we as a country have taken hundreds of thousands of refugees and others who arrived here by legal routes gives the lie to the idea that we as a country have no safe and legal routes to accept genuine refugees.

Nevertheless that level of legal net migration is not sustainable and we will need to manage it down - which absolutely does not mean that we should stop taking either a manageable number of genuine refugees or people who have skills which we desperately need.

When I defend the government's policies on this subject online, I usually take flak from people who think we should have a less restrictive immigration policy. But I have never, ever had that reaction on the doorstep.

When I am talking to members of the public in the real world, the flak I get is, absolutely without exception, from the opposite direction - from people who think my views on immigration are not too restrictive, but far too liberal. And I will take that flak, and explain why fortress Britain is not the answer.

But anyone who argues that either I, or Rishi Sunak's government, are taking too hardline a view on immigration, and imagines that the electorate agrees with them, is seriously out of touch.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Why do you completely ignore one of the two criticisms I made of your original post? Is it because you know you were totally wrong,, and can't bring yourself to admit it?

If the only "effective plan" to stop the boats is to criminalise the victims of crime, heaven help us all.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Interesting to see that your immigration minister Robert Jenrick is now saying that: “They (the people smugglers) are some of the most evil, most pernicious people in society. You have to match them – you cannot behave in a way that is weak and naive.”
At least he's honest enough to acknowledge that the government is attempting to introduce a bill that is every bit as bestial as the criminals themselves. Go Tories! Criminalise the victims of crime - you know it makes sense!
Chris Whiteside said…
I am quite certain that Robert Jenrick would vehemently deny that this is a reasonable interpretation of what he said.
Chris Whiteside said…
Paul, you obviously put a lot of work into your most recent submitted post on this thread.

As far as I am concerned, from your fourth paragraph "Let me help you in your deliberations" to the penultimate one, e.g. all the quotes, count as constructive attempts to change my mind and if you or anyone else posted that part of your comment or any or all of those quotes on their own, I would mark them as "not SPAM" and publish them.

But the first three sentences and final sentence with which you topped and tailed the comment, were another matter.

I have today put up an post called "comments policy on this blog" to explain further what kind of comment I will and will not accept.

I may make exceptions in special cases - like if the target of the personal criticism is someone like Vladimir Putin or Sergei Lavrov - but my general rule is that if you cannot make your point without attacking someone personally, the point isn't worth making.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Still mulling over whether your claim the Illegal Migration Bill "is an attack on the people smugglers who put their victims in dangerous boats, not an attack on the migrants" is correct or not, Chris?

With every passing week, evidence piles up that this bill IS an attack on migrants.

Theresa May says:

"My fear with this illegal migration bill is that it will drive a coach and horses through the Modern Slavery Act, denying support to those who have been exploited and enslaved, and in doing so making it much harder to catch and stop the traffickers and slave drivers."

"denying support to those who have been exploited and enslaved" equals an attack on the victims of people smuggling.

Vicky Tennant, the UK representative at the UNHCR says:

“We have a profile of people coming across the Channel which is largely a refugee profile. The bill is essentially extinguishing their right to asylum. It would cover anyone who arrives in the UK in an unauthorised manner.”

"extinguishing their [refugees'] right to asylum" equals an attack on the victims of people smuggling.

The Women's Institute says:

“If passed, this legislation would cost lives. It would inflict harm on survivors of modern slavery and other human rights abuses who are trying to rebuild their lives … it threatens survivors with detention and removal for entering the country without immigration leave. "

"inflict harm on survivors of modern slavery and other human rights abuses" equals an attack on the victims of people smuggling.

Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen, a charity fighting modern slavery in the UK says:

“There has been a deliberate conflating of immigration, smuggling and trafficking by this government, who are now saying that victims of serious crime will not have access to justice or the support they need purely based on the way that they entered the country, which if they are a victim of trafficking, was usually through force or coercive, deceptive or fraudulent means.”

"victims of serious crime will not have access to justice or the support they need purely based on the way that they entered the country" equals an attack on the victims of people smuggling.

The Refugee Council says:

"More than 190,000 people – most of them refugees fleeing from some of the world’s most dangerous and repressive countries – could be locked up or forced into destitution under the Government’s new crackdown on desperate people seeking safety and sanctuary."

"crackdown on desperate people seeking safety and sanctuary" equals an attack on the victims of people smuggling.

Happy Easter, Chris.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Have you given up on this entirely, Chris, or do you intend to correct the record any time soon - or ever?

I get the feeling that, unless you have a ready response to challenges to your position, you simply ignore the submitted opinions and refuse to publish them. I don't expect posts that break your blog rules to be published, but it does seem unreasonable to not publish submissions simply because you can't rebut them.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Have you given up on this entirely, Chris, or do you intend to correct the record any time soon - or ever?

I get the feeling that, unless you have a ready response to challenges to your position, you simply ignore the submitted opinions and refuse to publish them. I don't expect posts that break your blog rules to be published, but it does seem unreasonable to not publish submissions simply because you can't rebut them.
Chris Whiteside said…
If anyone has anything new and constructive to say on this issue, and can express it in a manner completely free of personal insults, I will allow it to appear.

I have better things to do with my time than participating in an exchange of insults - and for the avoidance of doubt, questioning someone's integrity because you don't agree with their opinions counts as an insult.

I am quite willing to debate the issues in a positive way but I am not going to engage with people who can't debate the issues without questioning my integrity.

Those are the rules of this blog, if you don't like them, set up your own or say whatever you want to say on your own social media channels
Chris Whiteside said…
I have rewritten the above post a couple of times. There have been a number of comments put forward in this thread and others containing what I consider to be personal attacks - and I note that the author of the posts is quite open that these posts contained criticisms of my personal integrity.

I don't see why I should have to put up with that. It ought to be possible to have a constructive discussion on the merits of a case without the need to insult the integrity of anyone who disagrees with you.

Some way into this thread there was a proposed comment submitted containing a statement which I believe most reasonable people would have been offended by if addressed to them. I don't see any reason to inflict reading that sort of nonsense on myself, and it provoked me to immediately click on the delete button without reading any further.

At that point it was my intention that from then onwards, this would be my response to any insult posted on this blog. I wrote the original version of the above comment to give fair warning of this.

On further reflection such a policy would be a rather blunt instrument.

Some comments expressing a different opinion are obviously constructive disagreement and are not personal or ad hominem attacks, some other comments can clearly and immediately be identified as ad hominem attacks, but there could also be instances statements which fall on a spectrum between the two. To delete an entire post with sections of it unread might deprive oneself of the context which would facilitate a sensible decision about whether a post has any merit or not.

There is the further danger that in practice it would be too easy to slip without noticing it from deleting insults to deleting anything one disagrees with, which would rather invalidate the point of having a comments function at all.

So I have changed my mind and rewritten the above comment accordingly.
Chris Whiteside said…
I have written nothing in the above post which needs to be corrected.

I would challenge the statement in a comment that the current Illegal Migration Bill explicitly criminalises every victim of the people smugglers. There is nothing in the Illegal Immigration Bill which introduces new criminal offences which the victims of the people smugglers might fall foul of, or which proposes to bring criminal charges against refugees.

(For clarity, last year's Nationality and Borders Act DID introduce new criminal offences for those who arrived here illegally, but those are already law. That act also introduced new criminal offences specifically aimed at the people smugglers who facilitate illegal entry.)

The purpose of the bill is to break the business model of the people smugglers. These criminal gangs are our enemy. The victims of the gangs are not.

That does not mean that I think the bill is perfect. I hope that as it goes through parliament the government will listen to the concerns expressed very powerfully by Teresa May about the need to avoid weakening the effect of the Modern Slavery bill which was one of the greatest achievements of this Conservative government.

The criticisms quoted in the posts above make important points but I don't think they tell the whole story.

Between 2015 and December 2022, the UK has offered a place to 481,804 men, women and children seeking safety via safe and legal entry routes. So the idea that there are no safe an legal routes for genuine refugees is simply incorrect. We have issued more than 200,000 Visas to Ukrainian refugees alone.

That the bill does do is introduce the following measures:

1. The Illegal Migration Bill will change the law so that people who come to the UK illegally will not be able to stay. Instead, they will be detained and then promptly removed, either to their home country or a safe third country like Rwanda. Crucially, the Home Secretary will be under a legal duty to make arrangements for the removal of illegal entrants falling within the scheme.

2. It will strengthen detention powers so that people can only apply for bail to the First-tier Tribunal after 28 days - this will make it easier to remove people.

3. People who enter the UK illegally will not have their asylum claim determined in the UK, and they will not be able to make a life here. Once removed, they will not be allowed to come back to the UK again.

4. If they cannot be returned to their home country, their asylum claim will be considered by a safe third country, such as Rwanda.

5. It aims to put a stop to the endless-merry-go round of spurious, last minute legal challenges that are used as a delay tactic to stop those with no right to be in the UK from being removed.

6. Those in scope WILL be able to challenge the decision to remove them from the UK, it will not prevent their removal and any legal challenges will be considered when they have been successfully removed to another country. If, exceptionally, there is a real risk that someone would suffer serious and irreversible harm if they were sent to Rwanda they would not be removed until it was safe to do so. Removal would also not take place if a person can demonstrate that they do not fall within the cohort subject to the duty to make arrangements for removal.

Is this perfect? No, and I never said it was. But it is preferable to letting people continue to die by doing nothing.
Paul Holdsworth said…
After all this time awaiting a proper response to my initial criticism, I'm relieved that you appear to have become much, much more nuanced in your support for the Illegal Migration Bill.

And I'm relieved that you have effectively backed off from the erroneous statement that this bill is "not an attack on the migrants".

Instead, you are now only prepared to rebut my assertion that the bill "explicitly criminalises every victim of the people smugglers" (because it introduces no new criminal offences against the victims, nor does it propose to bring criminal charges against refugees).

In that narrow sense, you're right.

But the Bill is most certainly an attack on the victims of people smugglers.

In my opinion - and the opinions of Caroline Nokes MP, the Archbishop of York, Nimco Ali, Rafael Behr and the Bishop of Durham among many others - the Bill to all intents and purposes also criminalises them by locking them up without trial.

These following quotes from the Great and the Good (and some not so good, perhaps), back up that assertion.

The Archbishop of York:

Christians are “morally bound to find ways of welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry... Criminalising the world’s most vulnerable people is an immoral and inept way of responding.”

Nimco Ali:

“The bill that Suella Braverman has put forward means that anyone like me who escapes from war and comes to the UK to claim asylum is a criminal.

“The focus from Suella is on criminalising the victims, not the perpetrators of trafficking. Women who are trafficked should be seen as victims, but under this law, people who are trafficked would be criminalised.”

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg:

The government is “right to want to stop desperate channel crossings in unsafe boats run by extortionate smugglers with no compunction. But the way to do so is not by punishing the victims."

Caroline Nokes:

"I am deeply troubled at the prospect of a policy which seeks to criminalise children, pregnant women, families and remove them to Rwanda."

Rabbi Charley Baginsky:

“How can we now turn around and send this generation of refugees back to face persecution, war or famine? The very nature of the UK and its immigration history will be ruptured for ever. It’s important that we see the humanity on these boats and the lives that can be saved, rather than try to deal with a problem by punishing the victims.”

Rafael Behr:

"It takes a Kafkaesque flourish of spite to withdraw help from desperate people on the grounds that they committed the crime of which they are the victim."


The Illegal Migration Bill amounts to “an asylum ban – extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances.”

The Bishop of Durham:

“It would label all those crossing the Channel as ‘illegal entrants’ and therefore people to whom we do not owe a responsibility, and would criminalise the act of claiming asylum – without acknowledging that many are highly vulnerable people escaping persecution and war, who have been left with no safe routes.”

Your final comment that the Bill is "preferable to letting people continue to die by doing nothing" is once again a false dichotomy - doing nothing is NOT the only alternative to this deeply nasty Bill.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Six weeks later and you finally publish the necessary corrective to your initial post.

It's like drawing teeth.
Chris Whiteside said…
I made very clear after the original version of that post was submitted that I wasn't going to publish it in that form, but that if you re-submitted that comment without the original pre-amble that you subsequently admitted contained personal attacks, I would publish it. I have kept my word.

I've just had two weeks under extreme pressure in my personal and professional life, and have not had as much time as I would like to update this blog and check comments. I'm not sure how long the revised post was sitting in the "awaiting moderation" folder: it might have been two weeks, and I apologise for the delay but it certainly wasn't six - that would be the time since the original post.
Paul Holdsworth said…
I simply meant it has taken six weeks from your initial assertion that this bill is "not an attack on the migrants" to at least tacitly accepting that that is not true.
Paul Holdsworth said…
And I'm very sorry you've been under such extreme pressure personally as well as professionally - I do hope that pressure is abating.
Chris Whiteside said…
I have never suggested that the bill is perfect. I have written all along that nobody has this issue completely right. However, I stand by the views that the object is to break the business model of the people smugglers, not to attack the migrants.

Thank you for your comments about the pressure I have been under.
Chris Whiteside said…
Yes, it is abating, slowly.

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