A key phrase in the Government’s new plan to stop people climbing into barely inflated dinghies and making the perilous trip across the Channel appeared to be lost on most of the left this week. The hand-wringing Twitterarti appeared to overlook the crucial fact that only single men entering the UK “illegally and without authorisation since January 1” could now be relocated to Rwanda to be considered for asylum and resettlement.
One of the first to condemn the idea as “extraordinary at best and horrifying at worst” was Professor Anthony Glees, an “expert on European affairs” from the University of Buckingham. Before going on to Twitter to describe Home Secretary Priti Patel’s script as “looney”, he told Radio 5 Live’s Adrian Chiles that Rwanda was “a hell hole” and “primitive”.
Rwanda has a history of violence and corruption, but had someone like Nigel Farage made such a remark about an African nation, in 2022, they would have been branded racist. Hypocrisy, however, knows no bounds when it comes to the immigration debate.
Hence we also had Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper branding the scheme as “extortionate as well as unworkable & unethical” even though Labour proposed a “new vision” for the management of “asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants” in 2003 that involved sending them to “regional protection zones” outside the EU for processing. Human Rights Watch at the time accused Labour of “attempting to circumvent its legal obligations to refugees, which are triggered when refugees are under the U.K.’s power or effective control” and “pandering to xenophobic sentiments at the expense of human rights.” Twas ever thus.
The plan ultimately failed – which should perhaps act as a lesson to Ms Patel and Boris Johnson. But Labour has cynically changed its tune on this issue in accordance with which way the wind blows across La Manche at any given moment.
When the snowflakes are falling on social media, all migrants are suddenly “refugees”. When there’s a Red Wall to be won, suddenly border control becomes a big issue for Sir Keir Starmer – who seems oblivious to the fact that Tony Blair created his own “hostile environment” after he opened the doors to mass migration in 1997 without any consultation with the British public whatsoever. As last month’s House of Commons Library briefing paper on asylum explains: “For much of the twentieth century, the numbers migrating to and from the UK were roughly in balance, and from the 1960s to the early 1990s the number of emigrants was often greater than the number of immigrants. Over the last twenty-five years, both immigration and emigration have increased to historically high levels, with immigration exceeding emigration by more than 100,000 in every year since 1998”.
In an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle after a decade of growing concern among voters about immigration, it was Liam Byrne, then Labour’s immigration minister, who first coined the phrase “hostile environment”. He said: “We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally.
“We have to make Britain much less of an attractive place if you are going to come here and break the rules,” he added, confirming the Labour government’s plans to introduce identity cards for foreign nationals resident in Britain from the following year. The Guardian gave the scheme – which proposed fining rogue employers up to £10,000, a pretty favourable write up at the time, even though the Home Office admitted that it “could lead to some firms employing only people they believe to be British”.
It was okay, according to the newspaper, because “ministers insisted that if the policy to curb illegal working unveiled yesterday is implemented properly from next year it should not lead to discrimination.”
In February 2010, two months before Gordon Brown lost the general election to David Cameron, the phrase “hostile environment” was repeatedly used in a Home Office strategy document. I appreciate that Theresa May, as both home secretary and prime minister, may have given the term rocket fuel – but, make no mistake, this was originally a Labour policy.
It now appears that if the left implements a hostile environment towards illegal immigration it is not discriminatory, but if the right does, it is racist.
As with the transgender debate, the left have toxified this issue so much, we can no longer even sensibly discuss who the people on small boats are Even Channel 4’s Fact Check facility has the good grace to concede: “The terminology can be tricky in this debate. The words “migrants”, “refugees” and “asylum seekers” are sometimes used interchangeably, although they mean different things.” And it admitted: “It’s impossible to know for sure how many people who claim to be refugees are really economic migrants instead.”
The left claims the likes of Tory MP Scott Benyon are lying when he says “the vast majority of people coming across the Channel are economic migrants”, but how can they be sure when, by their own admission: “The Home Office doesn’t publish statistics covering asylum claims following small boat arrivals specifically”?
What we do know is that in 2021, 19,763 of the 28,526 people (69 per cent) recorded by the Home Office as having arrived on a small boat were men between the ages of 18 and 40. According to Full Fact: “Iran and Iraq were the two most represented nationalities among people arriving on small boats, accounting for 7,874 (28 per cent) and 5,414 (19 per cent) small boat arrivals respectively in 2021. The next three most-represented countries were Eritrea (2,829), Syria (2,260) and Vietnam (1,401).”
Since Iran and Iraq are no longer at war, are we to assume that all these young men are fleeing from persecution for their homosexuality? Regardless of the reason, why isn’t France considered a safe enough haven?
These numbers suggest that the policy has been specifically designed to tackle the unique problem of predominantly young men being “exploited”, as the Prime Minister put it, “by ruthless gangs, taken to their deaths in unseaworthy boats”. It’s far from the catch-all immigration policy some are politicking it to be.
Moreover, since research carried out by the Refugee Council suggests that 61 per cent of those arriving by boat win their asylum claims, then why the objection to them being safely processed in Kigali rather than risking the rough seas?
And herein lies the truth of another lie. Even after Brexit, the UK remains a very welcoming country. Last year, the number of granted asylum applications rose to 48,540, which was the highest annual number since 2003. According to the aforementioned Commons library paper: “The percentage of asylum applicants refused at initial decision reached its highest point at 88 per cent in 2004.” That is under a Labour government. “Since then, the refusal rate has been falling overall and was at 28 per cent (in 2021), its lowest point since 1990.”
People want to come to Britain precisely because it is so accommodating. (Literally: we are spending £4.7 million a day putting migrants up in hotels).
What I can’t quite understand is why the left wants to encourage so many migrants to the UK when they consider it such a corrupt country? Having spent the past two years bleating on about the PPE scandal – and more recently partygate and Mr Johnson’s inadequacy for office – you would have thought they’d be plumping for Rwanda as a much more respectable alternative.