In Brief

Channel crossing crisis: why Priti Patel’s ‘push-back tactic’ is not working

Last week, a record 1,185 migrants crossed the Channel to Kent in small boats

“So this is what taking back control of our borders looks like,” said the Daily Mail. Last Thursday, a record 1,185 migrants crossed the Channel to Kent in small boats. They’re among nearly 24,000 people who have made the journey so far this year – almost triple the total of 2020.

These numbers make a nonsense of the Government’s boast, in last month’s Tory conference, that it is “smashing the people smugglers”. The Prime Minister needs to take charge of this “growing humanitarian and political crisis”. He can’t afford to leave the search for solutions to the “beleaguered” Home Secretary, Priti Patel, or to the French authorities, who it appears “can’t or won’t crack down on this trade in human traffic”.

French officials insist that the UK’s inaction, not theirs, is the problem, said The Daily Telegraph. They have, it’s true, prevented some 18,000 crossings this year, and dismantled a migrant camp near Dunkirk this week. They also have a point about the “pull factors” drawing people to Britain. Many migrants speak some English and have family ties to people already in the UK. The ability to get casual work and access services in Britain without the need to show an ID card is a big attraction – as is the low likelihood of ever being deported.

This year’s surge in Channel crossings risks toxifying the immigration debate and undermining support for our asylum system, said Stephen Daisley in The Spectator. The Tories could learn from Australia, which slashed levels of illegal immigration by, among other things, turning back boats.

Patel has tried the push-back tactic already and it doesn’t work, said John Rentoul in The Independent. The policy depends on French vessels being willing to receive the boats being turned back, and French officials have said that they are not. No, there are really only two ways we can solve this problem. One is to help France make it harder for boats to set off in the first place. “The other is to make our asylum system so unattractive that people think it is not worth the attempt.” But as Joe Biden and other world leaders are discovering, devising a workable, humane, legal approach to border security that can command the confidence of voters is very hard.

We need to adopt a less insular approach to immigration in this country, said Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph. It’s not as if we’re being inundated: France, Germany and Sweden all have bigger refugee populations than Britain. As the planet warms, the number of desperate, displaced people in the world is only going to grow. “The response has to be greater, not less, cooperation with nations trying to deal with the ensuing crisis.”

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