Tuesday 7 March 2023

Just a minor problem, not a crisis


In the scale of things, the arrival of a few tens of thousands of people a year in small boats is a minor problem to one of the world’s richest countries. It’s only as high as it is because the UK Government has spent years trying to close down other, less obviously visible, routes for refugees to reach the UK, and the numbers coming here are smaller than those going to most of our major European neighbours. Yet, to hear the government talking and to read some of the more lurid stories in the tabloids, it would be easy to see how people could come to believe that it's actually a major crisis. The main factor that turns it into a ‘crisis’ is government rhetoric, past and present, using the issue to divert attention from more pressing questions such as the rising cost of living, and to blame refugees and immigrants for the manifest failings of government.

And so we are to be presented with yet another attempt at legislation to ‘stop the boats’; legislation which is as likely to be effective as anything else they’ve done so far (i.e. hardly at all), setting themselves up for another failure on the ground which can nevertheless be presented to that racist and xenophobic section of the electorate to which the Tory Party now seeks to appeal as being ‘tough’ action. Whether the new law is entirely in line with the UK’s international obligations under treaties to which the UK is a signatory is currently an unresolved question – the Telegraph (paywall) is reporting that, “…it will be stated in the Bill that the new laws may not be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights”. The willingness of the Tory Party – which long prided itself on being the party of law and order – to break international law whenever it feels like doing so didn’t go away with the last-but-one Prime Minister.

The Bill is likely, according to the Guardian, “…to place a legal duty on the home secretary to detain and remove nearly all asylum seekers who arrive “irregularly””. Given the limited capacity of the Rwanda scheme (around 200 per year) and the fact that the UK government has very few agreements in place with other countries to return immigrants either to their own country or to the last country they were in before reaching the UK (having effectively torn up the latter as part of Brexit), this will lead to a need to detain large numbers of people, indefinitely, with no legal redress available to them. The Times reports that, “…there will be new powers to enable the mass detention of tens of thousands of people every year before their removal.” The idea that the government can give itself the power to round up and detain tens of thousands of people every year with no court process is one which should frighten all of us. The idea that there is a majority in parliament in favour of such draconian action ought to be provoking much more reaction than it is. The UK is a failing state. The belief that the new law will somehow act as a deterrent and stop people attempting the journey shows a failure to understand how desperate people are. Quite apart from anything else, the refugees and those despicable people who make money by trafficking them are as capable as anyone of seeing that the UK is simply incapable of removing such numbers of people, and that building or requisitioning places to hold tens of thousands more people every year is not going to be sustainable for long.

It's not about controlling borders or reducing immigration at all (the UK economy has a major need for the labour which could be provided with a more humane approach), it’s about seeking votes on the back of treating people inhumanely. Depressingly, it might even work to some extent. We should never forget, though, that a government which demonises and mistreats one group of people one day to serve its own narrow electoral ends is perfectly capable of picking on another group the next day. There are those who look at what the UK government is doing and say ‘this is not who we are’. In truth, if we allow it to happen, this is exactly who we are.


dafis said...

What makes you think the UK is one of the world's richest countries ? That wealth exists is undeniable but much of it is held in all sorts of dark places such as "tax efficient" offshore accounts and investments. The common herd is becoming more impoverished with each passing day as the corrupt axis of suppression - big government and big business - inflict inflation on us without any attempt at restraint using Ukraine and all sorts of other excuses to deflect accountability. If we were able to access all that stashed wealth perhaps we could start the redistribution effort by improving the services to people already resident here in Wales and wider UK. Health,education,housing,transportation, industry all need a good hefty dollop of new finance and modernisation. After we have got that project under way we could then be in a position to crack on with economic migrants, refugees on some scale without having to stack them out of sight indefinitely in hotels at ridiculous expense.

The priority should therefore be one of restoring equilibrium so that fat cats can't hide their earned and ill gotten gains in some offshore haven. Tories will bleat that such actions will drive wealth creators away from the country. Fair enough all they do at the moment is exploit the country so maybe it would be better if the did buzz off. I remain convinced that any party that advocated the dumping of any access to tax avoidance schemes would make big gains given the present mood of the electorate.

John Dixon said...

"What makes you think the UK is one of the world's richest countries?" I accept that measuring wealth is not exactly straightforward, and all measures have their problems. Having said that, the most usual measure is GDP/head, and on that measure, the UK is in the top 20 or so of the wealthiest states. Your point - that it doesn't always feel that way to many, because that wealth is far from evenly spread - is a valid one. And the inequality is getting greater, not lesser. That is not a problem with the amount of wealth, but with its distribution. Deliberately conflating that inequality with an overall lack of wealth in order to argue that we 'can't afford' to help desperate people is exactly the Tory strategy. Collectively, we need to understand that the enemy isn't those desperate enough to risk their lives crossing the channel, it's those who hoard (and hide) wealth. I'm not sure that we're a long way apart on that, although I'm afraid that "After we have got that project under way we could then be in a position to crack on with economic migrants" sounds an awful lot like the oft-voiced demand to 'help our own people first'. That's not the choice that we need to make.

dafis said...

John I visit and am connected to numerous communities in South Wales where that local priority is exactly what they are calling for. Get them on something approaching an even keel and they will become very agreeable to hosting an influx. Where they are it seems that rectifying their precarious existence always comes second to some issue "elsewhere". Despite their present predicament they are far more charitable than most of the middle class fat cats dwelling in the posh suburbs of Cardiff and elsewhere who are pretty damn good at telling us to be kind to others without parting with much of their own.

As for the tax dodgers the remedy has always been available to the UK Gov but they are complicit in the crime of stashing assets in various havens. Wonder why ?

John Dixon said...


"...that local priority is exactly what they are calling for" I don't doubt that for a moment, and I can fully understand why they feel that way. My point, though, is that assuming that there has to be a choice between the two is an invalid premise; there's nothing stopping us from doing both. And accepting the idea that there is a choice opens the door to a whole series of other things which we just need to tackle first... There is a difference here, of course, between what we might call 'practical politics' - recognising the way people feel and responding to that - and underlying truths. I'm not accusing you of this, but far too many of those demanding that we 'look after our own first' are using that as an excuse to put off for ever addressing the wider problems. And some of them for dubious and dark reasons.