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When he was MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke campaigned energetically for action against the people-trafficking trade – knowing well from experience the impact it was having on his Dover constituency.

And a business it certainly is, with the gangs concerned bribing lorry drivers, finding would-be migrants, and charging them up to £10,000 per person to break illegally into Britain.

Or else, especially if the lorry route is constricted, first buying boats and then deploying them.  At present, the former means isn’t available, because of the impact of the Coronavirus.

Hence a new sea lanes push by the gangs – aided by France having scaled back its security presence at the borders in order to police its own lockdown.

In the Commons this week, Natalie Elphicke, Dover’s new MP, was carrying on where her husband left off, urging the Government to be given the “legal tools” that will enable it better to return illegal migrants and stop the flow.

This is surely the key to solving the problem.  Nigel Farage is suggesting that France is systematically helping the trade: why else would he claim that the French navy is escorting illegal boats into British waters?

Never underestimate the former UKIP and present Brexit Party leader.  When it comes to leaping into the limelight, nobody does it better – and few are more skilled at identifying public anxiety about mass immigration.

Interestingly, he didn’t seek to harness it when building his new party up. He majored instead on Theresa May’s broken commitment to leave the EU by March 29 last year.

And – interestingly again – he has not sought to put himself at the head of a movement to oppose the lockdown outright.  Instead, he is out and about in the English channel.

But whatever French naval boats may or may not be doing, it would be simplistic to argue that institutional France is waving illegal entrants towards its northern coast with a placard proclaiming: “Britain this way”.

For France, like any other countries, contains a mass of different interests, and it is not in those of its UK-facing parts to have a mass of illegal migrants piling up near Calais and other French ports.

Hence the 2016 dismantlement of the “Calais jungle”.  None the less, for as long as the boats continue to arrive daily, MPs and others and others will be calling on France to up its game.

And, certainly, the argument about the French police and the country’s lockdown, now being eased, cuts both ways: if they were stopping people moving about, why didn’t they stop the illegal entrants?

At any rate, the nub of the matter is that boats are coming and the migrants are staying: in the past 16 months, some 2,500 migrants have crossed the Channel and only 155 have been returned.

The smaller part of the explanation is that Britain’s border security isn’t as effective as it should be: the “not fit for purpose” issue raises its head again.

The larger part is the cats cradle of the Dublin Convention, human rights laws and our courts.  On the Convention, Priti Patel says that she wants to renegotiate it.  Good luck with that one.

On human rights laws, however, she and the rest of us may be in luck – remember Downing Street’s sally at “the shocking influence of lawyers on policy”. (And remind us: what is the occupation of the Leader of the Opposition?)

That we have left the EU may make no difference to the Convention itself, but it will give the Government more room elsewhere for legal manoeuvre.

Which the awaited Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission, now in abeyance with so much else because of the Coronavirus, can be expected to probe.

Dominic Cummings, remember, is on record as writing: “we’ll be coming for the ECHR referendum and we’ll win that by more than 52-48”: for the Vote Leave group in Number Ten, taking back control is a work in progress.

But until or unless the Government fashions and then uses “legal tools”, to quote Elphicke again, the boats will carry on coming.

174 comments for: The Government’s democracy commission, “legal tools” – and boats of illegal migrants

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