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17 January 2022

Anoosh Chakelian

Why the government’s plan to use the Navy against Channel migrants sounds familiar

To divert attention from the latest scandal, ministers are repeating empty immigration announcements made many times before.

Another day, another plan for policing migrant boats in the Channel. And this one looks very much like the one before, and the one before that.

As part of what is being labelled “Operation Red Meat”, the government is trying to distract its MPs and voters from the scandal of No 10 lockdown parties by re-announcing unworkable policies to stem the flow of asylum seekers reaching British shores on small boats.

This time, the announcement is that the Navy will be deployed to patrol those waters and deal with any migrants trying to sail over. Those who are brought to shore, according to the Times, will be sent overseas (to Ghana and Rwanda, apparently), for “processing and resettlement”.

The intended reaction is clearly for bleeding-heart liberals like me with funny sounding names to wring my hands at the cruelty of the Tories. Or for those with the opposite perspective to praise our tough old British bulldog PM for stopping foreigners coming over here uninvited and making use of our threadbare asylum provision.

But when I saw the headlines this morning, my reaction was simply to laugh. We’ve heard it all before.

In fact, in recent times the Navy has already twice been called on to support Border Force in the Channel in January 2019 and August 2020, yet crossing numbers have still reached record highs.

Meanwhile, plans to process these migrants overseas have also already been announced at least four times before in October 2020 (when the idea was to send them to disused ferries, Papua New Guinea, Moldova or Morocco), March 2021 (in the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Scottish islands and other British overseas territories), June 2021 (that time it was Rwanda) and November 2021 (the location by this point had changed to Albania). These ideas never materialised into policies.

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[See also: Is Priti Patel making it illegal in the UK to rescue asylum seekers?]

The government has also announced at least four times over recent years that migrant boats heading for the UK will either be turned around at sea or those on board who reach British shores will be deported. But, again, there was a record number of Channel migrant crossings in the year 2021.

It comes as little surprise that the Mail on Sunday labelled the Home Secretary Priti Patel the “Minister for Hot Air” last summer – contrasting her endless pledges with reality.

Perhaps we should take it as read, then, that when a minister briefs some “new” scheme to reduce the number of small boats crossing the Channel, they are really trying to distract from some other failing than the one they are implicitly highlighting: allowing people to risk their lives and drown instead of opening up a safe and legal route.

[See also: Humanity, not hostility, will solve the migrant crisis]

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