A migrant child waits in front of a makeshift tent where the Red Cross provide food and clothing. Photo:Getty
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The deaths this week are a wake-up call. We need a change of direction

This latest horror is neither isolated nor unexpected. We can't sit by and leave people to drown.

The tragic deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean this week must force us to change direction.

Immigration is one of the major issues of this election and Labour and the Conservatives continue to portray all immigrants in a negative light. But immigration is not an issue which can be solved by Britain on our own. Or by oversimplifying and stoking fears based on one stereotype. The Liberal Democrats' manifesto will not ignore the plight of refugees playing a lottery with their own survival.

Labour's “controls on immigration” mug has done nothing to help the country debate this most difficult of issues. Nuance doesn't fit well on a mug. And it creates an environment in which it’s easier to turn away from truly horrific situations than to try to do something about them.

This latest horror is neither isolated nor unexpected. The number of people fleeing war or human rights abuses on rickety boats across one of the most dangerous crossings has surged in the last few years. In 2014, over 200,000 attempted the journey – more than three times the previous record in 2011, at the peak of the Libyan civil war. So when the EU ended search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean last year, there was an outcry from NGOs.

The reason given for the decision was stark:  the Italian's search and rescue programme were thought to act as a “pull factor”, encouraging people to flee. This clearly should be a cause for concern but the new policy is clearly not working. UN officials say well over 500 people have died since the start of the year, 30 times more than in the same period last year – although when I asked the Conservative minister responsible for any similar analysis from our own Government, it was shockingly absent.

Migration is a complicated issue. We can’t just brush aside allegations that smuggling gangs were exploiting search and rescue operations because they knew that people would be saved. But we also can’t turn our backs on the people caught up in the midst of wars in Syria, in Libya, in human rights abuses in Eritrea. This is why we want a review of search and rescue, and why we support Save the Children's campaign launched this week. 

The Liberal Democrats will press for an immediate EU review of both search and rescue, and current EU-anti-trafficking programs. If lives are being lost unnecessarily, we will support the reintroduction of search and rescue.

Ultimately, we need to stop trafficking, and help countries build peace to make these journeys a less rational prospect. But in the short term, Liberal Democrats will not abandon those who presently have little choice but to pay criminals to get to safety.

Immigration cannot be tackled by playing to fears of a single stereotype. Or by pretending that leaving the EU will solve all "immigration" related problems. The number of people who are travelling to Calais and attempting to cross the Channel to Britain demonstrates that we cannot deal with this issue in isolation, even if we left the EU. In an increasingly uncertain world, Britain and Europe cannot turn our backs and expect no repercussions. We must work together for the human dignity and security of everybody. ​​

Tim Farron is Foreign and Commonwealth spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats.

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear