Charlie Elphicke is the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal.
Last week saw chaotic scenes at Calais. Would-be migrants to Britain have been intimidating lorry drivers and climbing aboard vehicles. They have stormed the port and attempted to seize ferries in their determination to break into Britain. Britain has taken action to make our borders safer and more secure. Now Europe must follow suit, taking action to stop the flow of people to Calais.
The White Cliffs of Dover are on the frontline of the battle to keep our borders secure. We bore the brunt of the immigration shambles under the last Labour Government. Back then anyone could pretty much just wander into Britain. They could then sign on, get housing priority and work illegally. Under Labour’s soft touch open-border policies, net migration increased from 44,000 a year in 1997 to 252,000 a year when they left office in 2010. It was a complete disgrace.
Since we were elected in 2010, making Britain’s borders stronger has been a top priority. Funding has been increased to 8,477 border staff, 400 more than under Labour. There is now a dedicated UK Border Force to detect smuggling and people trafficking.
Border Force patrols of the English Channel have been stepped up. Vigilant ships make it harder than ever to break into Britain. Highly-trained sniffer dogs find people hanging from lorry axels or hiding in the fruit and veg. This crack dog squad is a new and effective element of our border security. We continually seek to make our borders ever stronger to catch illegals and make our country safer.
The chaotic scenes at Calais show that these security reforms have been effective. Effectiveness that has pushed the Mayor of Calais, Natascha Bouchart over the precipice of desperation. With angry words she condemns us for for closing Labour’s open door. She threatens to buy migrants ferry tickets and send them over. She speaks of blockading the Port of Calais and wants to build a new Sangatte.
Action, not words
Yet the Mayor of Calais is wrong. Her finger points in the wrong direction. The problem at Calais is not a British one. It is a European one. A problem requiring a European-wide solution.
The cause of the problems at Calais is the EU’s determination to have free movement and open borders at any cost. The EU’s open borders Schengen Agreement means that it is possible to travel from the Italian Island of Lampedusa to Calais without any border checks. Britain does not have these open borders. This is why today Calais has a big problem, while we are doing better at keeping our borders more secure.
It’s increasingly clear the Schengen Agreement is not working. Britain and France should work together to see it reformed. First, to press the EU in Brussels to take responsibility. Second, to require that Italy, the first safe country for so many of these people, ensures any asylum claims are made and processed there. Third, there needs to be Europe-wide action against the trafficking gangs who lie behind much of this problem.
The world in 2014 is a very unstable place. Violence and political instability ravage Africa and the Middle East. 50 million people are now displaced. This is why we cannot allow anyone to just wander into Britain. It would be unfair on our population and put pressure on our resources. It would endanger our security and could let people in who seek to do us harm.
Our border controls are increasingly effective. Very few people manage to get through. Yet it is not enough. The root causes of the migrant problem in Calais must be dealt with, too. I am proud of how the White Cliffs of Dover are a symbol of the strength and security of our island nation. We are keeping Britain safer and more secure. Now we must see France, Italy and Brussels to do their bit too.