Let’s start by agreeing that both the gangmaster trade in people trafficking – which makes a mockery of those refugees seeking legal asylum routes – and the deportation of trafficked people to Rwanda are undesirable.
The question that follows is whether the first can be stopped without resort to the second (or a policy very like it). So move on to mull the only alternative for control on offer that I know of.
Which would be to allow asylum applications from abroad: this is the “safe and legal” route of which we have all read during recent days.
It could be that instead of taking small boats to Britain, asylum seekers would queue up patiently in Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles to apply for entry.
Which would mean presenting their papers to the authorities abroad rather than tearing them up before arrival here, as is often the case, in order to further their claims.
Some might do so but others wouldn’t: there is really no way of estimating the proportions. But even were the majority to do so, the number of people seeking asylum in Britain and elsewhere isn’t a fixed number.
And there is no limit on the number of refugees that we and other countries are obliged to take, due to international agreements on refugees drawn up three quarters of a century ago.
In other words, the most likely consequence of such a policy would be higher refugee and migration numbers, as more people entered by both legal and illegal routes.
For once a new means of travel has been hit upon, people are willing to pay to use it, and their number is large, the only direction numbers are likely to go in is up.
So it is with the discovery that a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, dinghy or kayak can profitably be packed with people and sailed from the beaches of Normandy to the coastline of Kent.
A French government better disposed to ours than Emmanuel Macron’s could help reduce the numbers, but by how much, given the length of the coastline, is debatable
And remember: there is no good reason, were the Government to open up “safe and legal” routes from France, for it not to do so automatically for those applying from other countries.
Which suggests taking a much larger number of refugees than the combined total of up to three million Hong Kongers, 20,000 Syrians, and 20,000 or so Afghans that this pro-migration Government has committed to taking.
Plus, of course, Ukrainians. There were 84 million refugees worldwide in 2020. Obviously, that total, a larger one than the population of the UK, wouldn’t all want to come here were the prospect on offer.
But it is only a fraction of the total eligible to apply. How many are the supporters of “safe and legal routes” willing to take, since given our international commitments there is no cap on numbers?
If it is now the teaching of the Church of England that Britain is morally obliged to take as many asylum seekers as wish to come here, Justin Welby should say so.
It just could be that the only alternative on offer is the Government’s Rwandan scheme, which itself is not unprecedented: consider the EU’s deal with Turkey over migration in 2016.
Unless, that is, the Archbishop would prefer Ministers collectively to shrug their shoulders and let the small boats cross – endangering their passengers, enriching criminals and making a mockery of law-abiding asylum seekers.
If so, the view of the Church would presumably be not only that we should take an unlimited number of asylum seekers, but that we should abandon all control of our borders while we’re at it.
A conventional take on the Rwanda policy is that Boris Johnson, down on his luck at the polls, has hit on the cynical wheeze of waging a culture war against migrants.
If so, dropping the annual limit on semi-skilled work permits; easing the salary threshold and allowing an unlimited number of foreign students can stay on for up to two years – all of which he has done – is an odd way of showing it.
As it happens, closing down openings for a British Marine Le Pen would strike me and perhaps others as no bad thing in itself.
For when mainstream parties don’t control migration, opportunities open up for extremist ones. First past the post and the good sense of voters have kept them at bay. The cost of living crisis presents them with new opportunities.
At any rate, the events of the last year suggest that the Prime Minister is a wobbly trolley rather than a focused strategist, at least as far as small boats are concerned.
I’ve watched the argument sway back and forth among Ministers, civil servants and SpAds as the small boat numbers climbed from 2,012 in 2020 to 23,000 by November last year.
Some have been unwilling to countenance the Rwanda policy because they don’t like it. And because they fear what must follow if the Government first talks big and then climbs down.
Namely, the mother of all ding-dongs with the courts, and perhaps with parts of the civil service too, followed by the revisiting of obligations from another age that leave us with no limit on numbers and which are decades out of date.
At any rate, the Government now seems to have made up its mind – due perhaps to the arrival of Steve Barclay et al – and now that it has made a decision it must see it through.
In the meantime, the opponents of the policy will warn of the coming of an anti-Christ: Johnson and all his works. Some are bad faith actors, willing to abandon all control of our borders, but unwilling to say so.
More are good faith ones: believers in a policy of “safe and legal” routes which implies a larger number of asylum seekers than I believe most voters would be willing to take.
Even so, I would sympathise with Welby’s point of view were the small boats making the long journey to Britain from Gwadar in Pakistan or Bushehr in the Persian Gulf or Tartus on the Syrian coast.
But they are coming from France. From France, for goodness sake – a neighbour that sees itself, not without reason, as the country that gifted civilisation to the world.
Does the Archbishop really think that France is a country from which asylum seekers are compelled to flee to these shores? If so, his sense of Christianity may trump that of his critics, but not his sense of proportion.