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Artillery Row

The Tories’ immigration muddle

Why the singular focus on small boats?

One of the government’s headline promises to the nation is its commitment to halt the flow of dinghies carrying irregular immigration onto Britain’s south coast. This is a just and welcome cause, with arrivals overwhelming the areas that are forced to house them in hotels, expressly against the wishes of locals.

Unfortunately, this government has been catastrophically incompetent at delivering on this commitment. In 2019, a small number of so-called “small boat” arrivals reached Britain’s shores. A year later, the annual arrivals closed in on 10,000. By December 2022, some 83,000 people had arrived since the start of the phenomenon — with last year accounting for over half of those reaching our shores.

The trend is worsening and the government’s plans to reverse it have failed. The Rwanda deportation deal is being scuppered by a failure to actually send any irregular migration to Rwanda and activist lawyers are using outdated legislation from the 1950s to push through bogus asylum claims. Though often depicted by open-borders activists as a vital route for refugees fleeing conflict and oppression, the Channel crossings are increasingly used by economic migrants seeking opportunities in Britain. Last year, 12,000 Albanians arrived on dinghies; in 2023, they are being overtaken by Indians as the second most-common nationality on the route. I personally wouldn’t want to live in India or Albania but neither country is a conflict zone that needs to be fled from.

With these failures in mind, I optimistically attended a speech by Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick in which he set out his defence of the Illegal Migration Bill, which was passed the next day. 

Jenrick said that unfettered migration “placed our public services under strain, weakened community cohesion and set back integration efforts.” He went on to argue that the “values and lifestyles” held by those arriving on small boats were diminishing “social trust and cohesiveness”.

But hang on a minute. All of the arguments that Jenrick was using against illegal migration could be used to argue for limiting legal migration. Yet on this point, the Immigration Minister — and the Tories in general — have been totally unwilling to act. 

After his speech, a reporter from City AM asked the minister how happy he was — on a scale of 1 to 500,000 — with legal migration. That 500,000 figure is equivalent to net migration in 2022, after the government issued over 1 million visas for the first time in Britain’s history. Jenrick recoiled with a wry smile at the question, but offered no meaningful response, delivering the standard “stop the boats” boilerplate. Another question followed on the same issue, which was also batted away. I wasn’t picked to query the minister, but there’s no great harm in that, because Jenrick had already shown that he was unwilling to tread into that discussion.

…the government has radically shifted its immigration intake

At the same time as Jenrick has decried the “values and lifestyles” of those arriving on small boats, the government has radically shifted its immigration intake from EU to more culturally distant non-EU nations. Migration from EU countries sat just above 250,000 in the year to June 2020, two years later it dipped below that level, with net migration from the EU showing tens of thousands more emigrating than arriving. Across the same period, non-EU migration has shot up from around 50,000 to over 500,000. 

Over 40 per cent of new visas issued by the Home Office in Q1 2022 went to migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nigerians accounted for 15 per cent, shooting up from around 3 per cent in 2019. At the same time, the share of immigration from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — our natural cultural cousins, English-speaking, Common Law, and born into the same modes of feeling and thought — has sunk below 5 per cent for the first time in decades. 

This is not all high-skilled. In 2020, the government quietly slashed the minimum salary of £35,800 for migrants, dropping it by 30% to £25,600. Moreover, the Home Office ruled that migrants on salaries of £20,480 with with other criteria on the post-Brexit points-based system will still be able qualify for jobs where there is a shortage of workers.

While he has been unwilling to be drawn into addressing the radical rise in legal immigration — which no one asked for and no one voted for — Jenrick has, however, found time to criticise Home Secretary Suella Braverman for her language when discussing migration issues. He fired some warning shots at his boss after she used the term “invasion” to describe the small boats scandal.

And he is not alone among Tories who are happy to express concerns about language instead of our porous borders. William Wragg, the Tory MP for Hazel Grove, added to the criticism when he fired off a few nervy tweets in the wee small hours earlier this month.

Later, in the light of day, he contextualised his criticism by saying that he had become “concerned” and “depressed” about the “toxicity of the debate around immigration and asylum,” adding that he thought it had been “worsened by the Home Secretary.” Jonathan Gullis this week added to that wet criticism, telling LBC that Braverman’s view that people crossing the Channel have values that are at odds with Britons made him feel “uncomfortable.”

Tories have given up fighting to police our borders so now instead they clammer to police our language. None of these Conservative critics appear aware there would be less “toxicity” and fewer discomforting truths in this debate if they had put more time into enacting the immigration restrictionism demanded by their tens of millions of voters over the last 13 years. 

But instead, by delaying and outright betraying their supporters they have allowed anger and resentment to rise. Ahead of the 2019 general election, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel promised that “immigration will finally be subject to democratic control, allowing us to get overall numbers down.” Hilariously, she warned that “a Labour government would see immigration surge, placing huge strain on public services like our NHS and prisons.” Last year, the Tory-run Home Office issued 1.3 million visas to arrivals.

The government’s long-overdue plans to “stop the boats” might be successful, but it might only have a small effect on our overall immigration figures. The strategy is akin to trying to eat healthier by having a little less salt with your main course but still following every supper with a bowl of donuts and custard. This ludicrous approach will do little to simmer the burning anger and sense of betrayal that is felt by Tory voters. 

At the same time as the Tories are slipping away from enacting basic border control, they are also allowing themselves to be bullied on discourse and language by motivated liberals who want to tarnish any support for restrictionism.

In their frit failure to defend robust immigration restrictionism, Tories have allowed the Overton Window to be yanked into a place where even pointing out that hundreds of thousands of arrivals from the third world will have values different to our own is considered “racist”. 

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