Show Hide image

I dare MPs who voted down the Dubs Amendment to look a child refugee in the eye

Police in Calais are burning the sleeping bags of child refugees. The UK's response is to build more walls. 

On Monday, I visited Calais and Dunkirk to meet refugees and the volunteers who work day and night to help them.

Less than 24 hours later, the UK government crushed an attempt to restart the Dubs scheme, the one chance these refugee children had of a secure family life, safe from war and persecution.

The UK has a proud history of helping refugees – the Kindertransport programme under which the UK took in 10,000 refugee children before World War II is just one example. The closest we have come to any kind of similar action is the now defunct Dubs scheme. Despite aspirations to take in at least 3,000 children under the scheme, we have given refuge to just 350. But this is a tiny fraction of the 30,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Greece and Italy last year alone. It is the equivalent of every big local authority in the country taking in just two of these youngsters.

While the 287 MPs who voted down the proposal went home to sleep in their beds, volunteers in Calais were handing out 100 sleeping bags – and will do so every night – to ensure that refugees have more than just the clothes on their backs to protect them from the cold. Even having a sleeping bag is no assurance of a warm, restful night. During my visit, volunteers told us stories of police waking up children in the middle of the night, taking away their sleeping bags and burning them. I later met two boys who had their bedding forcefully taken and, as a result, spent the rest of the night running to keep warm.

The government keeps bleating on about costs and a limited capacity to support refugees, but the reality is the UK is pouring money into building walls in Calais (the Calais jungle wall alone cost £2m). Making it harder to cross borders does not reduce numbers of refugees. This money could do so much good, feeding and clothing refugees, giving them somewhere safe and warm to sleep, and reuniting them with their family members in the UK.

We also could be spending the money on improving services on the ground. The Dunkirk refugee camp is home to two shipping containers that were intended to be used solely as community kitchens but also now have 40 people sleeping in each of them. The number of hot meals handed out by volunteers in Calais is growing every night, despite the mayor’s attempts to crack down on food distribution. She has declared herself “personally opposed” to humanitarian efforts. This is the kind of person the UK government is colluding with.

The Dunkirk camp also has a children’s centre, which an average of 40 to 50 children visit each day. From the inside, it could be any classroom or nursery in the UK. Adorned with children’s artwork and abuzz with noise, it is a small haven from its bleak surroundings. One of the regular users of the centre is a five-year-old boy – when I met him, he was quietly doing a Fireman Sam jigsaw puzzle. Volunteers at the centre believe he is on the autistic spectrum but do not have the resources to get an accurate diagnosis. In the UK, his life could be so different.  

It is clear the UK’s response in Calais has been ineffective, inhumane and counterproductive. For example, many of the young people who were taken to other centres around France following the demolition of the jungle camp have simply made their way back to Calais. Their applications for transfer to the UK were rejected by the Home Office and they have nowhere else to go. 

Amber Rudd has claimed “fake news” is being spread about child refugee numbers. Yet, as I have seen for myself, it is anything but. That she needs to borrow rhetoric from Donald Trump highlights a desperation to spin the story and steer attention away from the government’s utter failure to help these children. 

This government is on the wrong side of history and now is the time for action. Reinstating the Dubs scheme is the bare minimum. In addition, the Green Party is calling on the Home Secretary to widen the family reunification rules, so that family members fleeing war, torture and persecution can stay together.

I will never forget the two young girls I met just outside the children’s centre in Dunkirk, one of them wearing a grubby pink sheep onesie. These are the faces of the refugee crisis. My words will never be enough to convey their stories. I challenge Amber Rudd and any of the Conservative politicians who voted against the Dubs amendment to meet these children - smiling and hopeful despite their terrible circumstance – and bear witness to the devastating effects of UK policies. I do not believe any MP would be able to look them in the eye and still cast a vote to condemn them to a life of danger and uncertainty.

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

Show Hide image

Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.


Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

0800 7318496