Sir Ed Davey MP: No more Trumpian tactics, Sajid. Let’s have proper policies to stop the Channel crossings
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Sir Ed Davey writes that the attempted Channel crossings by refugees show the Government has failed to take control of UK borders, due to Border Force funding cuts of £40 million since 2015, reducing the number of officers by 600.
According to the bookmakers, 2019 will be the year Theresa May departs as Tory leader. That means the jostling to replace her is already well under way – and it’s not a pretty sight.
Sajid Javid spent the Christmas period kickstarting his leadership bid by scaremongering about people crossing the Channel from France. And scapegoating refugees for the Tories’ own failure to get control of our borders. It’s as depressing as it is unoriginal.
At the Home Office, Theresa May built her support in the Tory party by stoking anti-immigrant sentiment with her racist “Go Home” vans and nasty “hostile environment” policies.
In the United States, Donald Trump appeals to his right-wing, nationalist base by promising to build a wall along the Mexican border, separating refugee children from their parents, and vilifying immigrants as rapists and terrorists.
Now it seems Mr Javid is trying to use the same tactics to further his own political ambitions.
The Home Secretary has declared the recent rise in Channel crossings a “major incident”, fuelled newspaper headlines proclaiming a “migrant crisis”, and even called in a Navy vessel and RAF support.
It’s all very reminiscent of President Trump’s fearmongering over the caravan of refugees from Central America. He called it an “invasion” and dispatched 6,000 troops to the border – only to draw them down once the congressional elections were out of the way.
Just like Trump, Mr Javid is vastly exaggerating the scale of what is happening. According to official figures, 434 migrants tried to cross the Channel in the last three months of 2018 – although that includes many who were intercepted by the French authorities and prevented from making the trip. Even that 434 pales in comparison to the roughly 9,000 people who claim asylum in France each month, and the 37,000 more who do so elsewhere in mainland Europe.
Mr Javid’s response to his confected crisis is eerily similar to Trump’s, too. The US President tried to ban anyone crossing the Mexican border outside of official ports from claiming asylum, although the Supreme Court has blocked him from doing so. This week, the Home Secretary said the Government will “do everything we can” to prevent these asylum seekers’ claims from succeeding. Like Trump’s ban, that would be unlawful.
But beneath all the Trumpian bluster is an admission of failure: the Tories have failed to take control of our borders. And, despite what the Brexiteers would have you believe, that failure has nothing to do with the European Union.
The blame really lies with Tory cuts to the Border Force. Since 2015, they’ve reduced its funding by £40 million and the number of officers by 600. That’s 600 fewer officers to intercept boats crossing the Channel; 600 fewer officers to combat the people smugglers and human traffickers; 600 fewer officers to stop the flow of illegal drugs and weapons into the UK.
The Liberal Democrats demand better. We are calling for major new investment in the Border Force to tackle illegal immigration, especially the organised criminal gangs that force desperate people into tiny boats to attempt the perilous crossings.
At the same time, we must prevent refugees from falling into the hands of smugglers by ensuring that they have safe, legal routes to sanctuary.
That means properly implementing the Dubs scheme for unaccompanied refugee children. Lord Dubs originally intended for the UK to take 3,000 children from elsewhere in Europe, but the Government only committed to a measly 480 – and it hasn’t even delivered on that, providing sanctuary to just 220 children under the scheme since 2016. The Liberal Democrats would properly implement the scheme to take 1,000 unaccompanied children a year.
And it means expanding the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. This was launched by the Coalition Government in 2014 and has proved successful, working with the UN High Commissioner to bring 10,000 refugees from Syria to the UK so far. We would expand the scheme to cover other conflict zones and resettle 10,000 refugees a year.
It is possible to be tough on illegal immigration and compassionate towards refugees, at the same time. But that requires proper investment in our Border Force and proactive efforts to resettle refugees safely – not shameful, self-serving impressions of Donald Trump in pursuit of the Tory leadership.
Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey is the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson and the MP for Kingston and Surbiton