Patrick O'Flynn

Boris and Priti can’t blame France for the Channel migrant crisis

Boris and Priti can't blame France for the Channel migrant crisis
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The sun is beating down again, the waves are less choppy in the English Channel and the small boats full of irregular migrants are pouring across once more.

At least 1,000 men, women and children were reportedly spotted landing on the south coast yesterday. If these numbers are correct, it would have shattered the previous daily record of 828, recorded on 21 August. But Home Office sources were today briefing that was an over-estimate and the likely official number will be about 740, merely the second highest daily total ever.

The graphs plotting the staggering acceleration of this traffic make grim reading indeed – this is one curve that has never been flattened. An accompanying slump in deportations means that to many observers it seems as if we are getting close to there being a de facto right for anyone from any poor country to arrive illegally in Britain and tap into the resources of the British public realm from day one with negligible risk of removal. No welfare state can survive long-term under such a scenario and neither can widespread respect for the obligations of national citizenship.

One might therefore have expected this shambles to be a major topic on the first day of the Commons sitting after the summer recess. In fact, it was only raised by one MP: take a bow Redcar Tory backbencher Jacob Young.

Young asked, not unreasonably, whether the Government could be doing more to stop the landings. The answer he got from Boris Johnson must rank as among the most complacent given by any prime minister from the despatch box in modern times.

'The issue is, very sadly, our friends across the Channel in France are faced with a very difficult problem: large numbers of people who want to come to this country. We are doing everything we can to encourage the French to do the necessary and impede their passage,' said Johnson.

Here was the fundamental responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government to maintain the integrity of national frontiers being blithely contracted out to a foreign power.

Underlining his strategic decision to try and blame France for not 'doing the necessary', whatever he might deem that to be, Johnson added: 

'The Home Secretary is working around the clock to ensure that we not only encourage the French to stiffen their sinews and stop people making the journey but use every possible tactic available to us.'

When Patel later spoke to Tory MPs, she copied the PM’s ruse, seeking to turn a first order issue of national security and integrity into a row with France over the relatively trivial sum of £54m that the UK has agreed to pay it to police our borders.

Patel said: 

'We’ve not given them a penny of the money so far and France is going to have to get its act together if it wants to see the cash. It’s payment by results and we’ve not yet seen those results. The money is conditional.'

Dover Tory MP Natalie Elphicke, whose constituency is at the epicentre of the crisis, also pointed the finger at France, saying: 

'People who are safe in France brazenly break into Britain day after day, with the French just waving them through with a cheery Bon Voyage.'

Edward Heath famously came a cropper when he asked voters the question 'Who governs Britain?' because they surmised that if he didn’t know then it couldn’t be him. His modern successor has effectively refined the inquiry to: 'Why isn’t France governing Britain better?'

If the Labour party was in better shape Johnson would surely go the way of Heath. But Labour is altogether silent on this issue – hamstrung by the 'no borders' demands of its activist base – despite polls showing it is a key concern of the voters it needs to win from the Tories if it is ever to be returned to power.

That ministers think the British people mug enough to swallow endless cycles of blaming France for their own failures is depressing enough. The spectacle of them getting away with it because there is no alternative on offer is even worse.

As many people in government must know – including the Prime Minister, according to his erstwhile adviser Dominic Cummings – the current approach of gimmicks and spin will not work. Only by moving to a system of offshore processing of asylum applicants and with attempted illegal entry and prior residence in a safe country being deemed disqualifying factors will the pull factor that is drawing so many to our shores be abated. And that requires the UK to free itself from a thicket of outdated international agreements, something the PM will not countenance.

What we see unfolding now is what happens when Solzhenitsyn-era refugee arrangements designed to assist small numbers of dissidents facing specific victimisation are permitted to live on into an age of mass economic migration.

One day fairly soon, once public wrath has reached an unignorable pitch, those arrangements will have to be changed. Boris Johnson has shown he is probably not the man to do it.