Opinion

Paul McNamee: We can turn the tide on this phoney crisis

Until Brexit is resolved this rush to show you’re a hard border tough guy will not cease

Sajid Javid

There they are, the hordes. See them coming, the marauders at the gate, the unwashed barbarians, ready to swamp us, ready to take us back to some primeval dark age, those ne’er-do-wells! Stop them! They’ll take all the vegan sausage rolls!!

But don’t fear, the best men are on the job. Defence secretary Gavin Williamson is calling in the Navy. He’s deploying boats to the Dover Strait. It’s like taking on the Armada again. They had 130 ships and they were done for. Tally-ho!

Hold on, here’s another. Home Secretary Sajid Javid is doubling down. He’s tweeting Williamson’s original tweet to make it sound like it’s his idea too. And he’s going bigger. “We will do whatever it takes to protect the UK border and human life,” he tweets, with purpose. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.

There were fewer things grubbier last week than seeing two of Britain’s most senior politicians – men, we’re led to believe, with eyes on Number 10 – scraping it out to show who could be more bilious.

The instinct to demonise rather than help the outsider is not new

At time of writing, 539 people were known to have tried to enter the UK on small boats across the Channel in 2018. Of these, the Home Office say, 227 were intercepted by French authorities. So that’s just over 300 in a year who have successfully made that perilous crossing. Fewer than one a day. Some were children as young as nine. This is what Sajid Javid counts as a major incident. His response makes no mention of very real major incidents in Britain, like growing poverty and homelessness.

The instinct to demonise rather than help the outsider is not new. And neither is it unique to Javid. Around the same time as Javid was getting Francis Drake on y’all, newly knighted John Redwood rolled his dice. He tweeted that the housing crisis was being caused by too many outsiders coming to Britain and taking the housing. This is a purposefully reductive mis-telling of reality. Clearly there are some areas where there is pressure on local authority housing, but this not Britain-wide. And it also, intentionally, ignores the benefits to local and national economies that inward flow of people brings.

Last autumn, the Migration Advisory Committee, an independent body, calculated that migrants from the European Economic Area alone contributed £4.7bn MORE to the Exchequer than they took out.

But why deal in facts when there is anger to stoke? The timing of Redwood’s housing intervention didn’t feel like it was a coincidence.

I believe free movement brings many positives. And I believe we should work to bring in more refugees, not turn them away. I understand concerns, and I also know that until Brexit is resolved this rush to show you’re a hard border tough guy will not cease. But it doesn’t make anybody holding the position without considering the effects a tough guy. It’s a straw man argument.

The only way to deal with it is to keep challenging it and pulling it apart. It doesn’t mean you’re for or against Brexit, just for, you know, reality. And humanity.

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