Channel migrants; what Priti Patel should do next – Patrick Mercer

HOW I cheered when Priti Patel became Home Secretary. I knew her and liked her, I admired most of her policies and I even went so far as to tip her as an eventual successor to Boris Johnson.

What more can be done to deter Channel migrants?
What more can be done to deter Channel migrants?

Well, it would be easy to 
recant all that, to smite my forehead and damn the very woman who had promised to bring illegal immigration under control. But it’s not as easy as that.

Now, while there’s been 
some pretty ham-fisted handling of both the problem and the 
way its solutions have been framed, it’s one of the trickiest issues that any minister has to face.

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First, I wonder why the Home Secretary hasn’t bawled from the rooftops that Britain has a proud record of immigration?

Migrants continue to cross the Channel every day in the hope of reaching Britain.

She’s living proof that immigrants can not just thrive but excel in this country – along with a good slice of the Cabinet. But it’s got to be emphasised that this is controlled, legal immigration.

And, of course, it’s quickly obvious that the dinghy migrants in the English Channel have become another proxy war between the great chasm in British social attitudes today – that between Leavers and Remainers.

The former do themselves no favours with hysterical talk of ‘‘invasions’’. Yes, more than 4,000 have arrived so far in 2020 by small boats, but these are not legions. And it’s got to be realised that every country in Europe is seeing something similar.

Yet, Ms Patel has stoked the fire by appointing a ‘‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’’ who seems pleased to be identified as a former Royal Marine.

Home Secretary Priti Patel on the steps of 10 Downing Street.

That title’s all wrong; it summons up images of U Boats and ‘‘fighting them on the beaches’’. Really: bedraggled, exhausted human flotsam?

And her talk of using the Royal Navy is risible. Can’t she grasp that her own Government has pared the Navy down to the bone unless she sees submarines somehow doing the job? Even the University Training Corps are going to have to be stripped of their little patrol boats to assemble anything remotely useful.

But, while the Home Office runs scared of hostile headlines, isn’t the pro-migration lobby arguing a deeply cynical line? Take the recent case of the young Syrian man who drowned and whose body was found on a beach in France.

Should we now despatch our boats to French waters to rescue migrants, bring them back to Britain and then offer them asylum? I don’t care how deeply you feel about unfettered migration, this is nonsense – and cruel, thoughtless nonsense at that.

Such actions would sanction the criminal gangs who sell journeys in lethal dinghies: our Government would become a partner in organised crime.

There are those who argue that borders are things of the past, a racist relic. But such 
views only encourage people 
to risk crossing one of the 
busiest and most dangerous straits in the world. And can 
it be proper for the democratic wishes of a population to be subordinated to international treaties penned by the UN?

Well, Remainers would suggest that those treaties have been cherished by the EU. But, before we use Brussels as an exemplar, we would do well to remember that its policies have led to the deaths of thousands in the Mediterranean. They bestowed freedom of movement on mainly white Europeans 
while forcefully denying it to non-white Africans. There’s nothing racist about that, is there?

So, how should Ms Patel proceed? First, she must be 
clear that both her arguments and those of the liberal Left condemn illegal immigrants to being pawns in a political joust that has already gone on for too long.

Next, she must use Brexit as our opportunity to ditch the shackles of EU regulations and properly co-operate with France to establish numerous and effective Customs and Border Force posts on French soil and in her waters.

Then, we need joint Anglo/French search and rescue craft which can not only save lives, but will show both the gangs and the migrants that getting into Britain will not succeed.

And all of this has got to be based on a coherent, properly funded immigration strategy which, after treatment and 
care, returns illegals to the country from which they entered Britain.

Lastly, the Home Secretary 
has got to exploit her own success. Humane, dignified policies empowered her family when they arrived from Uganda and she now needs to emulate that.

She must remember that immigration was a core concern of the majority of Britons who voted for Brexit and put her party back in government with an overwhelming majority.

Now is the time to take sensible suggestions from the Left but to scorn those who believe that even the term ‘‘illegal immigration’’ should be outlawed.

After that, Ms Patel must curb the bellows of her own backbenchers and turn a deaf ear to the press.

A compassionately designed, innovative policy with the democratic will of the majority of our people at its spine is the only solution.

Patrick Mercer is an ex-soldier and former Conservative MP.

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