Why Brexit makes the Channel migrants crisis harder to solve

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The vote to leave the European Union was many things, but perhaps most of all it was a vote to control immigration.

Now, the legacy of Brexit is making it difficult to prevent a horrific human tragedy unfolding in the English Channel as record numbers of people try to make treacherous crossings in small boats in search of a better life in Britain.

Personally, Boris Johnson has never been one of those right-wing Tories who see immigrants as poisonous invaders who should be repelled. He disliked 2016’s emphasis on rejecting a vote on a trumped-up threat to Turkish migration in much the same way he hated Nigel Farage’s more overtly hostile campaign.

However, the prime minister privately admitted that in order to win the 2016 vote, Farage and company had to argue that migrants “come and get jobs.”

The impact of the Brexit vote on the migration debate has been dramatic. This almost instantly took the edge off a problem that had been one of the first on the voter’s list of concerns (and Conservative Party obsessions) for years. Suddenly, immigration plummeted in the ranking of public priorities as the future of all UK-EU relations dominated the political debate.

Migration from the EU has also dropped sharply in the years since the referendum. In 2020, when the pandemic broke out, net migration for EU citizens was negative, with 94,000 more EU citizens It is believed that he left the UK than arrived, the Office for National Statistics reported on Thursday (25 November).

Yet, while officially sanctioned routes for economic migrants from the continent are drying up, a growing humanitarian crisis has hit British shores with displaced people fleeing poverty and conflict zones.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 25,000 people have crossed the Channel in fragile boats launched from French beaches and landed or rescued off the coast of Kent. In November, more than 1,000 people went ashore for the first time. one day

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[See also: Twenty-seven people have drowned in the English Channel. This is a predictable – and ongoing – tragedy]

Despite the fact that the temperature is now close to freezing and winter is approaching, small boats continue to arrive. The tragedy seemed inevitable, and on November 24 at least 27 people, including a pregnant woman and a large woman drowned.

Immediately after that, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone. The leaders of the two countries agreed to intensify cooperation to overcome the crisis. But that unity quickly disintegrated: the Johnson administration said France was not doing enough to stop migrants from crossing the border. The French fought back by advising Britain to cooperate and stop politicizing human catastrophe.

The truth is that the Canal Strait migrant crisis is inevitably political – for both sides – and Brexit is not helping it. Relations between the UK and France are at their worst in a generation, again due to Brexit, with Macron and Johnson arguing over the conflict. fishing rights and trade rules have been repeated this year.

In Britain, Johnson’s allies will fear the return of immigration as a political battleground, especially with Farage. make noise about a possible comeback. Immigration has become a problem for voters again. He was named one of the top three the most important problems facing the country by 22 percent of respondents to a YouGov poll this week, up from 18 percent in January, albeit below the 30 percent high in August.

There are many reasons why the UK is an attractive destination for the desperate people congregating in Calais. The grim irony is that one such attraction may simply be that the UK is now having a harder time sending them back.

As an EU member state, the UK could use the Dublin III rule, which meant that asylum seekers could be returned for processing to the EU country they first entered. Outside the block, he has no such opportunity. Interior Minister Priti Patel is trying to reach an agreement with France on refunds that will replace the Dublin Accord, but so far no deal has been struck.

Johnson and Patel have focused on this issue with increasing intensity, but boats continue to arrive. British ministers have already pledged £ 54 million to France to pay for an increased number of patrols this year and are now eager to send officers to conduct joint searches on French beaches.

More than 100 miles of coastline that boats can descend from, and French commentators say French police cannot effectively patrol them all and stop the criminal organizations responsible for trafficking in vulnerable people.

But France turned down the British staff’s offer, presumably because it wants to protect its national sovereignty from the influx of British civil servants operating in France. Brexit supporters will certainly understand this argument. After all, the restoration of British sovereignty was the central motive for many conservative Eurosceptics. Restoring control of British borders was an integral part of that promise.

But in their efforts to defend their national sovereignty, Britain and France risk grossly neglecting the needs of tens of thousands of people who have no one.

[See also: Why the language we use to talk about the refugee crisis matters]

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