Crisis? What crisis? It’s just a few boats feuling hysteria about immigration
Published by The ipaper (31st December, 2018)
As Angela Merkel enters the twilight of her extraordinary political career, she can look back on a nation transformed by her rule. In 2005, the year she took office as Chancellor, Germany accepted its pivotal place in the world by proclaiming itself ‘a country of immigration’. Since then economic success has sucked in huge numbers from within the European Union – 755,000 arriving in one year alone – followed by that amazing humanitarian gesture three years ago offering sanctuary for about one million refugees fleeing carnage.
Since then we have been swamped with alarmist stories of sexual assaults, a resurgent far right and political chaos to fuel immigration hysteria. Yet a few days before Christmas, the head of the German employers’ group said four in 10 of those arriving since 2015 had landed apprenticeships or jobs. He called them a ‘pillar’ of the economy, adding: ‘We must continue to be an open society…if not, there is a danger that we will fall back economically.’ And the cabinet approved plans to boost visas for people from outside Europe to lure skilled workers.
Meanwhile in Britain there is political panic about the latest immigration ‘crisis’ after a few small boats tried crossing the Channel. They are filled with Iraqis fleeing chaos sparked by British-backed invasion of their country, and Iranian professionals escaping a repressive theocratic regime. It is thought 220 people have attempted the crossing in two months to our islands with 11,000 miles of coastline. Yet MPs demand navy gunboats while making fatuous statements such as ‘you don’t deter burglars by leaving your front door open” and claiming the world’s busiest shipping lanes are “being sold as an easy passage by ruthless people traffickers’.
The numbers are minuscule compared with, say, the 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey or more than one million refugees in struggling Uganda. But it is much easier to blame ‘ruthless’ smugglers rather than face up to complex problems in a globalised world, one in which Britons believe it is their birthright to live, travel and work anywhere while denying such freedoms to people from poorer places. Sajid Javid, a Home Secretary so desperate to win the keys to Downing Street that he stops people following his own father’s route into the country, abandoned his £840-a-night safari in South Africa to declare ‘a major incident’.
What a depressing end to a dismal year, one that further demeaned Westminster and diminished Britain’s stature. The dismal lack of leadership on migration, with politicians so often pandering to prejudice, lay behind the corrosive Brexit vote. It lies behind Theresa May’s blinkered approach to pulling the country from its key alliance. It lies behind giving aid to warlords whose thugs rape and torture refugees. It lies behind letting people drown simply for seeking better lives. And it lies behind the Home Office sending out a gross message telling 3.6m European Union citizens they must pay to stay in this country just as families gathered before Christmas.
A Tory party purporting to stand for enterprise, families and freedom has become engulfed by crass nationalism under a leader who sneers at ‘citizens of the world’. As Home Secretary, May tore apart families from the Caribbean, introduced harsh policies to target poorer Britons with foreign spouses, drove up the difficulty of obtaining visas and tried to turn doctors, landlords and businesses into border guards. As Prime Minister she seems to be doing her best to disrupt key sectors and public services with her Brexit red lines, breaching manifesto pledges and brushing aside reality that the bulk of migrants now come from outside the EU.
As the parent of a daughter with profound disabilities, I can see the damage already to a crumbling social care system stymied by staffing problems. Yet while May and Javid pretend they can stop flows of human beings, there are signs of sea-change in attitudes among voters. Yes, a majority still believe there too many immigrants in the country – but it has fallen over the past two years to historically low levels. ‘Britain looks set to regain control of immigration just as the political value of that control hits an all-time low,’ commented Matt Singh, founder of Number Cruncher Analytics.
What a contrast between Britain and Germany, between the small-minded myopia of May and bold leadership shown on this issue by Merkel. Our Prime Minister loves to talk about modern slavery yet denied asylum even to Eritreans and Yazidis fleeing barbaric examples of such brutality. Her counterpart in Berlin accepts the difficulties of integration but braved political storms since she sees the need for Western democracies to demonstrate decency, attract talent in a global market and rejuvenate workforces in an ageing society.
Those boats crossing the Channel show the weakness of political leadership rather than borders. They underscore the arrogance of a Westminster that treats voters like children rather than confronting them with difficult debates, despite the damage this causes the country. One senior member of David Cameron’s government even told me he wished they had emulated Viktor Orban, the hard-right Hungarian leader who poses as protector of traditional Christian identity while attacking open societies and “the Muslim influx”.
Yet note also events in Hungary before Christmas with a wave of anti-government protests. They were prompted by a new ‘slave law’ giving bosses power to demand 400 extra hours of annual overtime while delaying pay for up to three years. So why was this drastic measure proposed? Simple – because barring migrants intensified acute staff shortages as young Hungarians leave a country dismantling democracy and stifling enterprise. It shows again the destructive impact of pandering to nativist panic – something that Britain needs to learn fast as it enters this defining new year.