For what “national crisis” did Tory home secretary Sajid Javid this Christmas call in the military to “take control of the situation”? Was it:
- that on 18 December, a 43-year-old man died sleeping rough outside Parliament, which took the number of deaths of homeless people in England and Wales to nearly 600 in 2018;
- that more than 300,000 people in Britain, including over 130,000 children, spent the winter officially homeless;
- that 1.5 million Britons are destitute, i.e. they cannot afford even basic essentials; or
- to prevent a repeat this winter of the more than 50,000 “excess winter deaths” that occurred in 2017-2018?
The answer was of course none of the above, but rather that in the four days between Christmas Day and 29 December, 82 migrants were detained attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats. Many had crossed the world’s busiest shipping lane in inflatable dinghies, without even the safety net of a lifejacket. Hardly an invading armada, contrary to the government’s spin.
This “surge” prompted Javid to declare a “major incident” and call in the Royal Navy to assist the Border Force with patrols. Much to the fanfare of the tabloid press, he cut short his family holiday (a luxurious and expensive South African safari trip, no less!) in order to be seen “doing something” and “taking charge” – i.e. posing for photos on Border Force vessels.
Overall, a total of 539 migrants are known to have made the perilous journey across the Dover strait during the course of 2018. This is an average of just 45 per month. Making this crossing was certainly a “major incident” for each of those who risked their lives to do so. But given that the government stands by whilst thousands of its citizens die each year from easily preventable causes, there are presumably ulterior motives for declaring this a “major incident”.
To put things into perspective, over one million migrants crossed the Mediterranean into Europe during the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015. Desperately fleeing war and economic ruin in their home countries, over 15,000 are known to have died or gone missing attempting the crossing since 2014. The responsibility for these deaths lies squarely on the shoulders of Western imperialism, its crony governments, and the “fortress Europe” policies of the European Union.
The recent attempts to cross the English Channel have received enormous media attention, with journalists setting up camp on the beaches near Dover. This has nothing to do with any compassion from the media moguls towards the plight of the migrants involved. Rather, it has everything to do with the Brexit crisis engulfing the Tory Party.
With Theresa May’s Brexit deal facing a likely defeat in Parliament, the Tories are in disarray. May has staved off a leadership contest for the time being, but she remains weak, sitting atop a paralysed government and a divided party. There can be no doubt that Javid is exploiting the migrant issue to beef up his own credentials for taking the top spot.
However, the issue runs deeper than simply Javid’s own ambitions as future leader. With Parliament deadlocked, a “Brexit in Name Only” or even no Brexit are becoming increasingly likely possibilities. The Tories are therefore desperate to find some way to quell the inevitable backlash that would result amongst those who voted Leave.
Hence consistent attempts to whip up xenophobic sentiments from leading Tory figures - supported of course by their friends in the right-wing media. The bombast from Javid (and others) about fake asylum seekers and 'illegal immigrants” is just another sop to the Tories’ most backward supporters: an attempt to appear tough on the question of immigration, in light of what many will consider a ‘sellout’ on Brexit.
This latest episode is simply a continuation of the Tories’ “hostile environment” policy, supposedly scrapped after the exposure of the Windrush scandal. As the crisis of capitalism deepens, clearly the Tories will resort to more and more desperate and reactionary methods to hang onto power, manufacturing crises to distract workers from the real issues at play.
The only way for Labour to cut across this filth is by presenting a bold socialist programme - one that unites all workers and the oppressed in the struggle to change society.