It is a cliché to say that the loss of 26 lives in the channel on a single day was an ‘accident waiting to happen’ but it was exactly that. There is no question that it was entirely foreseeable and a consequence of the relatively light touch of the French approach to the policing of their beaches.
It also puts into perspective the many emails that I have received from constituents demanding that our own Border Force abandon the ‘taxi service’ shepherding the dinghies to our shores when they reach our territorial waters.
Our officers have received training on how to turn back the dinghies but the circumstances in which this is permissible are very limited and it is fraught with danger – they are the flimsiest of craft.
Just consider what the state of public opinion and overseas commentary would now be, had the loss of life occurred on a boat that we had turned back: we would be an international pariah.
Critics on the opposition benches in the Commons argue that the cross channel route would be rendered obsolete if only we would open up more lawful routes by which applicants for asylum can reach the UK.
I do not believe it is fair to fault us on that score: The UK initiated a scheme for 20,000 vulnerable Syrians. We are about to initiate a similar scheme for 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, which is in addition to the 15,000 that we evacuated from Afghanistan in August – most of whom are still living in hotels and short-term accommodation as we try and find permanent dwellings for them across the UK.
In addition, we have set up a scheme in response to China’s repression in Hong Kong, which is projected to receive around 422,000 applications in its first four years. The scheme requires that applicants hold a British National Overseas passports which were issued to citizens following the handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China in 1997. Whilst the scheme allows applicants to bring adult children with them to the UK, nevertheless, many young people have had to flee alone, having been involved in the protests against the loss of liberty. They do not qualify themselves because they were not born when Hong Kong was handed over to China and they have left their qualifying parents behind, who wish to remain in Hong Kong. So, now there is an amendment before the Immigration and Borders bill to extend the scheme to these young people as well.
I share the desire of the constituents that we be compassionate to those whose circumstances are so much less fortunate than our own, but the political reality is that the desire to come to the UK for a better life is pretty well unlimited and inevitably has to be rationed.
As I have so often argued in this column, our most effective contribution is the one we make as the world’s second largest donor, in the form of our international development aid to alleviate the conditions in the places from which the occupants of the dinghies are fleeing.