Nobody could fail to be moved by the deaths of 27 people who drowned in the English Channel as they tried to cross from France to the UK in an inflatable boat. Understandably, some constituents and opposition MPs want the UK Government to relax border controls and provide safe transport to the UK for anyone who wants to come here. Yes, it would be one way to prevent further tragedies. But we need to consider the full implications. Taking a proportion of those living in the squatter camps of northern France would not solve the problem of illegal and dangerous boat crossings. Estimates suggest there are up to five million undocumented migrants in Europe. They would head straight for the UK if we ended border controls. Across the Middle East and Africa, hundreds of millions of people are seeking a better way of life and would quickly follow. The consequences for Britain would be profound. I could never accept this.
Instead, the UK Government is following two strategies. In the short term, we want to work with the French and other European governments to arrest the gangs making money out of people smuggling and to prevent boats from taking off. We have given money to the French Government and offered manpower and equipment. This has had some effect but will not be enough on its own. We are currently taking legislation through Parliament which will reduce the incentive for people to cross illegally by making it less likely that doing so will result in a right to stay. It could lead to asylum claims being dealt with in offshore processing centres as the Australians do. Those with a valid claim would still be welcomed to the UK but economic migrants would face being resettled. Ultimately, we probably all want the same thing. An immigration system which enables anyone from anywhere in the world with a valid claim to come safely to the UK, but which strongly discourages people from paying money to people smugglers and risking their lives by coming here illegally.
Last week, the UK Government passed the Health and Care Bill. Ever since 1987, it has been a cast iron rule of politics that when a Conservative government passes any kind of legislation to do with the NHS, or if there is a general election, Labour will accuse us of “privatising the NHS” and/or selling it off to the Americans. This latest bill has passed into law and I am pleased to report the NHS remains the much-loved, free at the point-of-use, non-privatised service it always has been - and always will be under a Conservative government!
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 1 December 2021 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 2 December 2021*