Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
24 November 2021

How much does the UK government really care about fixing the migrant crisis?

At least 27 people have died attempting to cross the Channel. How is the UK going to respond?

By Stephen Bush

The deaths of at least 27 people attempting to cross the English Channel to seek asylum in the United Kingdom has thrown the human cost of the absence of safe routes for those seeking a better life here in Britain into sharp relief, as the political cost of the ongoing migrant crisis continues to unnerve Conservative MPs.

The crossing of people across the Channel and to British shores has been a political problem for the government since before the Brexit vote – David Lidington, who was Europe minister throughout the lifetime of David Cameron’s government, believes that the migrant crisis is one of the reasons the UK voted to leave the European Union. But the manner of that exit has accelerated and heightened the problem.

Video by Phil Clarke-Hill

The big lie of “ending free movement” is that the British government could close its open door to the people of the European Economic Area, but maintain it for the purpose of sending refugees and migrants somewhere else in Europe to settle. On top of that, the bad relations between the UK and France (the United Kingdom’s essential partner as far as the boat crossings are concerned) also heightens and accelerates the number of people who will end up trying to come to Britain via unreliable and dangerous Channel crossings.

The political fallout is the major reason why Priti Patel’s standing among Tory MPs is currently at a low. Her department’s perceived failure to tackle the problem – and with that perceived failure, the resurgence of challenger parties to the Conservatives’ right flank – has made MPs nervous, and MPs who had in previous times credited Patel for fixing the party’s growing problem on crime in particular.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's climate, environment and sustainability content. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

But the reality is that the only lever that you can pull in the Home Office to address the issue is to increase the number of safe routes to the United Kingdom. Everything else is ultimately a question for the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister: does the British government want to prioritise its diplomatic spats with France over the Northern Ireland protocol and Aukus, to have a big yawning gap where it ought to have a European dimension to its “Global Britain” vision – or does it care more about fixing this crisis?

Topics in this article: