Photo by Alessandro RAMPAZZO / AFP

Britain is a multicultural outlier in Europe

Europe’s belated rightwards drift is leaving the British behind

Artillery Row

One of the more curious maladies affecting our commentators, is the belief, sincerely held, that we are living through a period of increasingly extreme right-wing action on immigration.

Columns and tweets resound with references to the chilling rhetoric and fiendish plans which the Conservative government is inflicting on the country. Soon, they warn, Britain could be a “human rights abuser. Yet no matter the rhetoric or the new laws, immigration has not only failed to come down but has in fact reached new heights.

A careful reader who remembered these dire warnings might well find themselves confused. Not only has the promised dystopia not arrived, but on the contrary the reverse appears to be happening. Indeed the Conservatives have opened up new routes: not just to the refugees of Ukraine and Hong Kong and Afghanistan, but also to the hundreds of thousands of supposed students and care workers and their (oddly numerous) dependents.

One especially confused subset of these are the Continuity FBPE, those poor souls on Twitter still carrying the torch for the EU online, complaining about the queues they have to suffer at the continental airports where they go on holiday.

For them the order of society was set by Blair, accepted by Cameron, and crowned during the 2012 Olympics. They are the petty bourgeois of the Posh Turn, and Brexit was the great violation of their worldview. Notably, their defence of the EU rests more on appeals to the joy of rosé and half-remembered French (pleasures not to be sniffed at, although hardly reliant on the EU for their enjoyment) than on understanding the structures of the EU in any detail.

For them, anything bad can be laid at the door of Brexit, a useful explanation for the decline of the country. This avoids any critical examination of their beloved Blairite model, which has really ruled this country for the last quarter of a century, with its reliance on cheap labour and the growth of obtuse sinecures amongst the quangos and NGOs that hem in political reform.

This wilful blindness is nowhere more evident than when it comes to immigration, with every failed attempt at immigration restriction in Britain presented as being another step away from the cosmopolitan European norm. On the contrary, if Britain is an outlier from Europe, then it is increasingly as an example of extreme immigration openness.

The 1.2 million immigrants to Britain last year compare to the 1.1 million refugees who went to Germany in 2015, an event widely seen as permanently changing that country. Although German net migration has remained above 200,000 ever since, that is still significantly less than the 606,000 net migration of Britain last year. France also has a significantly lower net migration than Britain, despite being a similarly sized economy. Net immigration per capita is even more stark.

What’s more, the continent is perfectly willing to talk and act tough. Investigations regularly show that the Greek Navy and FRONTEX, the EU borders agency, engage in “pushbacks” in the Mediterranean, where asylum seekers have their vessels towed outside Greek territorial waters so they can’t claim asylum. Although the Greeks carry these out, the asylum vessels are usually identified by FRONTEX, with its pan-EU staff, first.

The RNLI effectively operates as a taxi service for asylum seekers

In stark contrast, the Royal Navy abandoned the role of dealing with the channel crossings to the Home Office, whilst the RNLI effectively operates as a taxi service for asylum seekers, picking them up and shipping them to Britain.

Or take France, where a new immigration law passed recently with the support of Le Pen’s National Rally. Although her role is contested — she ordered her supporters to back the bill at the last moment in part to embarrass Macron — the centre right was able to extract several concessions, which toughen up rules on access to welfare for immigrants and family reunification rules.

Although some of these may be struck out by the French Constitutional Council, it was met with cries of “betrayal” by some left-wingers. It demonstrates that the prevailing mood on immigration in France is shifting right, after the riots following the death of Nahel Merzouk at the hands of the police and continued threats to teachers from Islamists.

Indeed, following the murder of teacher Dominique Bernard by an Islamist, the government ordered the deportation of radicalised foreigners in France, which included an Uzbek known only as M.A. Suspected of jihadist links and under house arrest, he was deported in full and flagrant breach of the ECHR, something which would cause hyperventilation if attempted in Britain. Although another French court has ruled against it and ordered his return, this marks the toppling of a norm, even if only temporarily.

The EU has also announced a new deal after three years of negotiations to deal with asylum seekers. It hopes to hold those seen as likely economic migrants near the external borders and then swiftly return them. Even if the deal is too little to grapple with the full scale of the issue, it shows that Britain is hardly alone in seeking to deal with the problem of easy mass migration and the abuse of the asylum system by economic migrants.

Insofar as European nations are in line with Britain, they are paying close attention to our attempts to restrict migration, in particular through off-shoring through Rwanda. Italy has already agreed a similar offshoring deal with Albania, and several other countries, such as Austria, are interested in copying Britain. Should the Rwanda Plan ever limp through all the legal battles, there will be a host of other nations waiting to join.

Far from Brexit marking the beginning of the slide into fascism, it gave Britain the freedom to grapple more fully with a problem facing the entire continent. Although there has and will be a great deal of churn involved in actually taking back control, it is now an option.

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