The terrible loss of life in the English Channel last week was a wake-up call to end the small boats crisis once and for all. It’s clear a fresh approach is urgently needed. Hopes were raised for discussions at the weekend. However, it’s hard to see that the outcome of the EU summit was an adequate response to the tragic events of last week. What we needed to see were patrols on the ground to stop boats setting off. It seems that what we got was a single plane to patrol the skies far above.
Serious loss of life needs a serious response. I have long said that has three parts: stopping the boats leaving in the first place, taking boats back to France and effective returns.
The first action, that of stopping the boats leaving, was thrown into the spotlight last week. Footage emerged of French police standing by while a large group of migrants unpacked a boat, loaded it up and set off. All the more shocking because that boat contained children and no attempt was made to stop the people leaving. Within hours, news broke of the tragic drownings of another, similar, boatful of men, women and children. So when the French are challenged about whether they are doing enough, the short answer is no. Action has to be taken on the French side because that’s where the boats are leaving from. They are not leaving from Dover. But that doesn’t mean the French must do it alone. Central to any such action must be joint working and sharing resources, including joint patrols on both sides of the Channel.
Ending the small boats crisis is as much in the interests of France as ourselves. The EU’s open borders policy has resulted in massive migration movements. That’s why firm action has been taken on the Mediterranean sea border to try to stem the flow, using similar methods to those currently proposed by the Home Secretary.
Where people are in need and genuinely fleeing conflict, the UK provides places of safety near conflict areas around the world. We take refugees, identified by professionally supported programmes run by the United Nations and other refugee charities, who come directly, safely and legally to the UK. If people have chosen to travel to France, or any other country before France, then they are then already safe. They should stay safe, on land and seek the protection and support of that country. They should not be making the dangerous Channel crossing in the hands of criminal gangs.
We are now at a stage with the small boats crisis when, instead of cancelled invitations and a war of words, it is time to work together. To look at how we can stop the boats and save lives this Winter.