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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Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.