Natalie Elphicke: What to do next about small boat channel crossings

6 Jan

Natalie Elphicke is MP for Dover.

There’s an old and true saying – a stitch in time saves nine. Nowhere is that more true than tackling the small boats crossings, about which is wrote on this site earlier this week.

Firm action, when the numbers were still in tens rather than tens of thousands, would have been quicker, easier and cheaper to fix and, more likely to be successful. Now we are undoubtedly in for a longer haul, but the destination must be the same” to bring the small boats crossings to an end and to reclaim control of our borders.

This is the right thing to do for the country, and the compassionate and sensible thing to do for those who are making these illegal crossings. It is also what we said we would do when we left the EU. So how is this going to happen and what needs to change? There are three elements to that – operational, legal and international.

Operationally, there is much more that undoubtedly can be done in Britain and in France. Many people wonder why the French don’t intercept, and why Border Force pick up, migrants both in our waters, and on occasion in French waters too.

The reason is simple and shocking. Faced with the French border authorities at sea, migrants bounce their dinghy, threatening to capsize, or strip lifejackets from children and babies and hold them over the side. Next time you hear the phrase ‘safety at sea’, that’s what the French are really talking about. People threatening to drown themselves and other people if they don’t get their own way.

Well, people don’t get to choose which country to come to by threatening the lives of others. It’s got to stop. That’s why I’ve long called for a joint security zone and cross-channel agreement between Britain and France. So that wherever boats are intercepted on the Channel, they are done so under joint operations.

There’s existing precedent for this. Under the Le Touquet Agreement, there are juxtaposed controls. In addition, there are existing operational security and policing teams that work together, hand in glove, tackling the criminal gangs. It’s my view that no further financial agreements should be made with France unless a joint approach to the Channel is taken. Both sides need to work together if they are to change tactics successfully and face down the people traffickers.

The second element is part legal and part operational. On boat interception, it’s my view that they should be returned back to France. That’s the quickest and most certain way of ending the small boats crisis.

However, the new Nationality and Borders bill is also legislating for offshore processing centres. These are used in other countries and are considered a vital piece of the jigsaw in tackling illegal migration routes. They have been used in Australia and other countries, including EU nations, are looking at offshore processing.

One suggestion is that people may be flown to third countries where their claims will be processed. If so, then it will become ever more urgent to reform the Human Rights Act – which has played such a pivotal role in preventing the repatriation of people who have no legal right to be here, including those who have committed serious crimes while in the UK.

All this is welcome, and I have been supporting the new legislation coming forward. However, as night follows day, it follows that if legislation action is broad and bold and big and cross-departmental, then the opportunities for broadsides, and for dither and delay are made all the greater.

Labour is having a field day with misinformation and deliberate confusion. Let’s take family reunion as an example. Contrary to the out-of-date Labour lines, family members, including those not so closely related, can already apply from the UK to bring in children in the greatest need. The application can be made online, and the fee can be waived for those without the money to pay it.

This family reunion route includes people who are refugees or have other humanitarian needs. We play a leading role nationally and internationally helping those in need. We shouldn’t be afraid to say so. We need to say so much louder and clearer.

The problems we have are not limited to the UK. Indeed, they are global. Around the world, some 80 million people are displaced by conflict. People overwhelmingly stay close to conflict zones and in the regions of their homelands. The UK plays a leading global role in helping such displaced people, as it should do.

However, a fresh international compact is needed to tackle the challenges of this humanitarian need.  This is the third element of action.

I would like to see a new ‘COP26 for migrants’ – a new global agreement to update the post Second World War Refugee Convention for the modern era. That compact should include creating permanent homes, jobs, and towns in affected regions. It should help people who are long-term displaced to rebuild a life that can be additive, fulfilling and independent. Not simply stuck in a tent in a migrant camp reliant on aid handouts, while the years turn into decades.

2022 must be the year in which we tackle the small boats crisis effectively. It must also be the year where we show global leadership at tackling the migration crisis and the unacceptable international trafficking and trade in human misery that goes with it. If we do this, and I believe we can, we will fulfil our pledge to have strong borders – and show the values of what it means to be Global Britain too.

The author’s first ConservativeHome article on this issue published earlier this week can be read here.

Natalie Elphicke: This must be the year in which the small boat channel crossings are ended

4 Jan

Natalie Elphicke is MP for Dover & Deal.

More than 28,000 people came into the UK through the small boats route alone last year. Many lives have been lost. What started as a trickle of boats and a few people has become a booming international criminal business, with ever greater numbers of illegal craft coming in day after day, month after month. Even on Christmas Day, the people smugglers didn’t stop plying their trade – putting even more lives at risk on the English Channel.

The range of departure countries is extraordinary and spans continents. Vietnam in the Far East, and the African countries of Eritrea and Somalia, as well as the Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Syria and more besides. Each of these routes has its own brokers and their own specialities. But they all have in common a clear belief that the UK is easy to break into and even easier to stay in.

Last year, records were broken on every measure. The record for the number of people arriving in a single day, for the number of unaccompanied young people arriving, for the number of people arriving in a month and a year (see here). It was a truly shocking year at the Dover border.

As the numbers have increased, so has the impact. Across the land, hotels, bed and breakfasts, old army barracks and rented housing were snapped up by the Home Office to house the equivalent population of a small town.

In addition, there’s the extra strain on GPs, schools, hospitals, skills and language training, as well as welfare payments. That doesn’t include the millions spent last year on new short-term facilities to hold and process migrants. The traditional facilities at Dover have simply been unable to cope with the numbers now arriving.

It’s not just a matter of money. It’s also one of national security. It is an uncomfortable truth, but one still the same, that not everyone who comes into our country through the illegal channel crossing route wishes us well.

People wanted for serious crimes, including those wanted by other intelligence services, have been detained in Dover as they tried to enter clandestinely by small boat. Not every person who lands on our beaches is picked up. Residents of coastal villages, such as Kingsdown and St Margaret’s, make regular reports of arrivals in the dead on night and in the early hours of the morning. Grown men knock on doors, hide in local woods where villagers walk their dogs, or are picked up by waiting cars and vans.

Beyond money and national security, there is also the question of fairness. It’s unfair to people choosing the right way to apply to come to the UK, when people are able to enter the UK illegally and remain. It’s also unfair to people seeking a way out of poverty, who want opportunity, and who are lawfully resident in our own country, including migrants and refugees who come into the UK through legal routes of entry.

Moreover, the bottom line is that no-one has to make these dangerous crossings. We need to be crystal clear about that. Every person getting into the water is already safe in France, which has an established and responsible asylum system. People are safe in many places before France too, both inside the European Union and elsewhere.

We also need to be clear that there are legal routes of entry into the UK. These are the routes that should be taken. Many people who are making the crossing are fleeing poverty, not persecution. They lack opportunity, not safety. The lure of the UK is predominantly economic. That’s why people borrow and save to pay to come to the UK. It’s an investment in their future.

And right now, there are hundreds of thousands of work visas up for grabs – in a huge array of sectors, including charity worker visas, seasonal worker visas, young persons’ mobility visas, creative workers’ visa, health and social care, HGV, and even amusement arcade work. You can come and work in the UK legally, and millions of people do. But you need to go about it the right way.

There are safe and legal routes for family members, too. Any person with a case for family reunion can make that case on behalf of their relatives in the UK and from the UK. There is absolutely no need for any close family member to be smuggled in at the dead of night.

It is absolutely right that the UK should help those most in need around the world and we do. But encouraging or facilitating people smuggling is not the way to do it. We need to bring an end to the small boat crossings and stop the dangers of people being in the hands of people smugglers and the risk of further deaths on the Channel.

This is the first of two articles by the author on small boats.  The second will be published on this site on Thursday.

Viva the vaccine passport rebellion

10 Dec

What a week it’s been for the Government. With the furore around whether or not Downing Street had a party – or three – the Electoral Commission’s verdict on Boris Johnson’s wallpaper and the arrival of his and Carrie Johnson’s baby daughter, the media has had no end of things to write about.

Unfortunately for the Government, much more negative attention is on its way, due to a growing Conservative rebellion around Coronavirus vaccine passports, which, on Wednesday, Johnson announced would be implemented in England (in what some have called a “diversionary tactic”). 

Although Conservative MPs have been generally supportive of measures to combat Coronavirus, from the Emergency Powers Bill to curfews, something about the passports has pushed them to their limits.

Tens of Conservatives, including Dehenna Davison, Andrew Bridgen and Johnny Mercer have tweeted their disapproval of vaccine passports (which have been introduced in Scotland and Wales), with William Wragg, a member of the Covid Recovery Group, being so brazen as to call for Sajid Javid to “resign” over the latest measures. Expect a mega rebellion on passports on Tuesday, when they’ll be voted on, with talks of up to 100 MPs rejecting the plans.

The Government’s justification for passports has been the quickly-spreading Omicron variant, which has prompted it to unleash its “Plan B” set of restrictions. This includes asking people to work from home when they can from next Monday, as well as making masks compulsory in many indoor settings; two requirements that have received much less, albeit some, criticism compared to passports.

Part of the reason why MPs may have become more concerned about these is the events elsewhere in Europe, which have brought into sharp focus how illiberal restrictions can become. Austria’s decision to make vaccines mandatory has been a wake up call – to say the least. The more cynical will say that some MPs are simply using passports as an opportunity to kick Johnson when he’s down, having disapproved of his policies for a while.

My own view, in regards to the introduction of vaccine passports, is one of mild disbelief that the Government ever contemplated them in the first place, never mind that Johnson said there should be a “national conversation” on mandatory jabs. 

There seem to be far more arguments against passports than those in favour (many of which are based on emotional reasoning – “well I like the idea” – and a desire to conform – “well France has done it”). They are divisive, literally separating society into two; don’t completely stop transmission; no one knows where the cut off point for such passports should be (flu?) and will make life complicated and miserable, with large economic consequences. The Night Time Industries Association has already said passes have caused a 30 and 26 per cent trade drop-off in Scotland and Wales, respectively.

Perhaps the most worrying thing, though, is we simply don’t know the long-term impact. Passports are one giant experiment, which we have discussed with all the seriousness of whether someone should change bank accounts.

In general, vaccine passports seem to symbolise a wider issue with the Government, in the Covid wars, which is that it hasn’t completely decided how to be “Global Britain” yet. Post-Brexit it has the opportunity to show the world a different approach to the pandemic; one that respects civil liberties, and isn’t so far away from Sweden’s more relaxed strategy. Instead, we seem to be “Herd Britain”, constantly keeping an eye on what France and Germany are up to, with a view to emulating them.

Either way, something has changed in the equation. The crucial question next week is how the Government groups the votes on “Plan B”. If MPs can vote on vaccine passports as a lone category, it makes it far easier for the idea to be shot down. On the other hand, if vaccine passports, masks and working from home are placed into a single “Plan B” vote, the Government might find all of its plans in disarray; as Bridgen warned “I will vote against any legislation that sees [passports’] introduction“. That, or it’ll be easier to sell to Labour, which is pro restrictions. Whatever the case, we need a cut off point as to how far measures can go; viva the vaccine passport rebels, I say.

Howard Flight: What we can learn from Dyson

6 Dec

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Scandals about Ministers benefitting from public expenditure are damaging and have clearly damaged the Government’s popularity. But what really matters over the longer term is the success of economic policies.

Here, while there was a case for increasing public expenditure while Covid-19 was closing down too much of the economy. Government spending as prescribed in the Budget looks to be far too high and risks serious permanent damage to this administration’s standing.

I am one of the traditional Conservative voters wanting to see Government expenditure reduced significantly as soon as is possible. I cannot understand a Tory Government indulging in such huge deficits. As inflation rises, the cost of financing the public deficit rises more substantially. There is the danger of the Government being forced to cut back expenditure materially and, with this, losing its credibility.

My wife recently gave a party for old friends to celebrate getting back to normal. Most had been vaccinated three times, and the majority had had Covid-19. It is clear that we have to live with the virus and as vaccinations increase, the incidents of Covid-19 (and, in particular, fatalities), should reduce to relatively modest numbers.

This is one area in which the Government has faired well, and our economy is thus better positioned than are most European economies. The main area of Government weakness is excessive spending – and the inflation risk that comes with it.

– – –

The parliamentary magazine, The House, has conducted an interesting interview with Sir James Dyson. He has been greatly concerned about the future of British manufacturing and innovation for many years. His main worry is that we do not produce enough engineers.

In Britain. we produce 20,000 a year, China produces 600,000 and India 350,000 pa. Even the Philippines produce more engineers. In the global completive world in which technology is everything, we risk getting left behind.

We have excellent design and engineering universities in the UK, but the majority of students and researchers in them are from outside the UK. Dyson thinks the problem is our lack of interest in manufacturing which has existed since Victorian times.

The major problem is that the status of an engineer in the UK is low by comparison with Germany and France. Manufacturing is still seen as something done by the less successful. Factories are seen as places providing employment – not producing great products which we can sell all over the world. As a nation ,we admire the wrong things.

In 2017, Dyson established the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology – a private Higher Education institution. It is based in Malmsbury. Students are paid a salary for working three days a week: they study for the other two days, and have their tuition fees covered for the four-year course.

If they want a job, there is one guaranteed at the end of the course. Recent winners of the Dyson Award covering 29 countries have included a Spanish student who created a box which can detect cancer, and sends the results to a cloud and then informs the user what cancer they have and what to do next; and a Pilipino student who discovered a way to generate electricity by mashing up certain fruits and vegetables, spreading a thin film across a pane of glass and shining a light on it.

Not surprisingly, Dyson is a champion for entrepreneurs. He favours lower tax for investors and innovators. In 2010, he wrote a report for David Cameron on how to make the UK the leading tech exporter in Europe, including additional tax relief on research and development investment. Government should not try to pick winners, but make it attractive for entrepreneurs and engineers to come up with new ideas themselves.

Dyson now employs more than 12,000 people in 89 countries. In 2002, he shifted most of his manufacturing from the UK to Malaysia – largely because it was hard to find UK suppliers who could deliver components on scale.

In 2019 he was criticised for moving his headquarters to Singapore, although his UK based employees have since doubled.

As a country we need to learn from Dyson’s experience. Government needs to apply itself to reducing unnecessary red tape; if anything it is still increasing it.

We need to boost our manufacturing sector and to reduce planning constraints, both in relation to factory accommodation and housing. Our SME sector continues to be very successful – substantially the result of the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Venture Capital Trust tax incentives on investing and smaller businesses.

Government needs to sort out our finances. Faster economic growth is needed, but the money supply needs to be controlled. We need to be doing more business in Asia, where the Foreign Office can assist by identifying opportunities on the ground. There are also plenty of business opportunities for the UK in the EU, particularly in Poland and other Eastern EU countries.

We need to have a Government focusing on improving our economy – and to put behind us both Covid-19 and politically damaging scandals. Going forward the priority must be what is good for the economy.

Andrew Mitchell: Asylum seekers. As matters stand, it would be irresponsible to vote for these new deportation measures.

6 Dec

Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012, and is MP for Sutton Coldfield.

No one should be surprised that people want to come to Britain. We’re a great country – but we can’t just blame the French or kid ourselves that the Australians have the answer to immigration. Bashing the French has long been our national sport, but bashing the British is just as much a favoured French pastime.

We need an immigration policy that is firm but fair. I strongly support Priti Patel in her effort to deliver just that, but she has to play off a sticky wicket. There is no single silver bullet. But there are a series of sensible measures that would help her get back onto the front foot.

The UK’s former Ambassador to Washington, David Manning, rightly wrote this weekend that we can’t pretend to be an Indo-Pacific power while ignoring the continent to which we belong. Brexit hasn’t changed geography: China is 5,000 miles from Britain, while France is just 20. He proposes a new bilateral treaty and a new framework for foreign and defence collaboration with the EU. These are sensible olive branches for us to offer.

The deployment of wave machines and jet skis – under the so called ‘push back’ powers – would lead to catastrophic calamity and diminish our standing on the world stage.

So, too, would proposals for a ‘fantasy island’ to deposit asylum seekers where human rights could not be guaranteed. We cannot challenge abuses in China, Russia and elsewhere if drones are bring flown over a UK offshore detention centre and footage being broadcast around the world. David Davis has rightly raised the spectre of such a place becoming a “British Guantanamo Bay”.

We need to remember what makes our country a global leader. We need to use the final weeks of our presidency of the G7 and our standing at the UN to start a meaningful convening and updating of the 1951 UN refugee convention.

The world is a dangerous place, and one in which climate change and conflict will continue to drive the movement of people from the developing to the developed world for the foreseeable future. We are talking about literally millions of them being on the move.

Where once Britain led as a development superpower, this year we have withdrawn. British development policy was designed to make life at least tolerable over there so that they didn’t come over here.

We are now reaping what we have sown, but it is not too late to change course. We should be gradually returning to our 0.7 per cent commitment on aid and the genuine international leadership that gave us – not leaving it until 2024.

As well as our obligations to those fleeing Taliban persecution in Afghanistan and Chinese repression in Hong Kong, we also have a responsibility to accept our fair share of Christians from Iran, Kurds from Iraq and those fleeing war in Syria and Ethiopia.

The Home Office have full control of refugees asylum claims, but we should no longer require people to set foot on a British beach, or be fished out of British waters, to consider their claim. Pauline Latham made such a very sensible suggestion this weekend.

France received three times as many applications for asylum as we did last year. The Germans have taken the lion’s share of refugees into Europe over the last decade. We are fortunate that the channel represents the backdoor to the EU and that we are not on the frontline in the Mediterranean. We should accept our fair share. No more, no less.

Whether you can afford to pay a people smuggler should not be an entry requirement. You should not have to risk your life in a small boat. You should be able to apply at a British embassy and arrive on a plane, met by an organised local authority. And those local councils should have time to plan, resources to help and an orderly and managed system to integrate new arrivals sustainably into welcoming communities. This might sound Utopian, but it is well within our capacity to absorb just a few families into each of our constituencies each year.

I’m no bleeding heart lefty. I’m a hard-headed civil libertarian. You should always be wary of trusting “the state”, and you can’t solve international problems without countries working together. These are two fundamental Conservative principles that many of us hold dear and they are the ones that will guide my consideration of the proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Through the Bill, the Government seeks the power to deport asylum seekers before their claims are processed, many of whom will indeed qualify for asylum in Britain . But they haven’t told us where this processing will take place. One of my colleagues comically suggested the Falkland Islands, while the Albanian Foreign Minister denounced reports that they would be sent to Tirana as “fake news”. Until the Government can explain how and where they will use these powers, it is irresponsible for Parliament to grant them.

There is much to commend in this Bill, and we all want Priti Patel to succeed and get it right. But I see no end in sight to the numbers risking their lives to cross the channel until we re-establish the humanitarian resettlement routes which Britain has previously offered. Their lives and our global reputation depend on it.

The UK’s changing Covid death rate per head

4 Dec

Source: Our World in Data

On April 13 2020 and on January 21 2021, the UK had some of the highest death rates per head in the world.  Even if different methods of calculation, over-counting, and changed methods of calculation were taken into account, our record looked very bad indeed.

It is important to add that like was never being compared with like: countries have different exposure to visitors, ethnic make-ups, resilience, lifestyles, health levels, openness to other economies, and so on.

That applies no less now, when the Covid story is more relatively favourable to the Government, than back then.  The UK currently has the 26th worst death rate per head in the world.  That’s four places below Italy, eleven above France, 23 above Germany (and 16 above that subject of perennial fascination, Sweden).

In other words, we have not done well so far when measured against roughly comparable European countries.  Nonetheless, the gap in terms of absolute numbers isn’t a gulf.

Covid confirmed deaths per million in the UK to date are 2,164.96; in France, 1,690.7; in Germany, 1,229.15.  We will see where the final figures end up in due course, now that a wave of cases is washing over our continental neighbours, as it washed over us earlier this year.

There are many reasons why the Government’s poll ratings were buoyant during the lockdown periods – and why there’s no evidence that the mass of voters believe it to be more culpable than other governments elsewhere.

The changing death number per head internationally is surely one of them.  I don’t mean to suggest that people following the figures closely: obviously, they don’t.  But they pick up a sense of what’s going on.  They clock when Boris Johnson’s opponents are pushing a particular criticism at him – and when they aren’t.

You may or may not like his and Sajid Javid’s relatively light programme of restrictions in response to the Omicron variant to date, but the altered death number per head helps to explain why they have room for manoeuvre.

Omicron or no Omicron, high-income nations should have promoted a more equitable distribution of vaccines

29 Nov

After a fairly “relaxed” few months in the Coronavirus wars, many of us were dispirited last week to learn of the emergence of a highly transmissible new variant, Omicron, which was first identified by scientists in South Africa

In a joint press conference on Friday with Patrick Vallance, England’s Chief Scientific Adviser, and Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, Boris Johnson levelled with the nation about its seriousness – and what measures the UK would take to combat it, from the re-introduction of compulsory mask wearing and a new PCR test requirement for people arriving at airports. Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, has today expanded on the threat it poses.

Whether the Government’s steps are enough will be the subject of many questions over the next few weeks. But perhaps the most important is what Omicron symbolises for the international community; specifically around whether the distribution of vaccines has been as equitable as it could have been.

From the early stages of the crisis, prominent experts and the World Health Organization have warned of the importance of equitable vaccine distribution, first for moral reasons, but also because an imbalance could leave a vacuum for new variants to develop, and evade vaccines/ treatment. The emergence of Omicron has only added to that concern – due to the fact that it emerged in a part of the world with low inoculation rates (only 24 per cent of the population in South Africa has been inoculated).

That the variant was discovered in South Africa does not mean it is where it originated (rather, its scientists have some of the best detection tools); indeed, there are cases in Hong Kong, Canada and the UK. But it has nonetheless opened up the debate on whether more even vaccination rates around the globe could have made a difference, and how many new variants will take off elsewhere without better-protected communities. 

There are still shocking statistics on inoculation rates worldwide; only 2.5 per cent of the population in low income countries, for example, have received full protection, with 3.5 billion people across the globe waiting for their first dose of the vaccine. At the same time, 66 per cent of high-income countries have been vaccinated, with many onto their booster jabs and plans to inoculate children.

Could high-income countries do more? It’s worth saying that many have gone to extraordinary efforts to get vaccines out. In July this year, for instance, the UK began donating millions of vaccinations as part of the international Covax scheme, and has pledged to donate 100 million overseas by June 2022. 

As of September, the United States had donated approximately 140 million doses to around 83 countries, making it the highest donor, followed by China, Japan, India, the UK, France, Canada, Spain, Sweden and Poland

But even these staggering figures – Covax’s initial goal is to provide two billion doses of vaccines worldwide in 2021 and 1.8 billion doses to 92 poorer countries by early 2022 – may need to be improved upon. There will also be pressure on countries to be more flexible about vaccine patents; the European Union is being asked to share more information with others.

Furthermore, some countries may need help overcoming logistical challenges to rolling out their vaccines, from having difficulties with storage, to experiencing shortages in health workers who can administer inoculations. It is not a simple case of more jabs, job done; governments have to consider these additional barriers.

Either way, it’s clear that equitable distribution will become much more of a talking point with the new variant; it is a reminder that the world is in it “together” when it comes to beating the virus. This often seems to be forgotten in all the talk about booster jabs – and it’s a shame that it only gets brought up when growing variants hit home. Even before Omicron, developed nations had a duty to do more here.

David Gauke: Oomph and optimism don’t always vanquish the doomsters and gloomsters

22 Nov

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Being in Government is fabulous. You get to decide what to do and then can implement those decisions, making (what you hope) is a positive difference to large numbers of people. It is what politics should be all about.

This power is not, of course, unqualified. I was fortunate to have nine years as a Minister but, throughout that period, the Governments in which I served faced significant Parliamentary constraints (in turn, a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a small majority and finally a minority Government) as well as a precarious fiscal situation, especially in the early years. We were not always able to do what we wanted.

You could have been forgiven in thinking that all this was in the past. Boris Johnson won a very comfortable majority in 2019, and he has always been clear that “austerity” was behind us. This was a “Take Back Control” Government that was going to deliver on the people’s priorities. Enough of the stalemates and gridlocks, the dither and delay. Now it was time to get things done.

What the last three weeks has shown, however, is that the limits on the powers of government have not gone away. All of a sudden, there are six instances when the constraints have become very visible.

First, the Government’s current travails began with the woeful handling of the Paterson affair, about which I wrote on this site a fortnight ago. The Parliamentary manoeuvre which it attempted – establishing a new cross-party committee – required other parties to participate.

Sensibly (and entirely predictably), the other parties refused to participate, leaving the Government with a problem. In addition, the whole proposal was so obviously objectionable that there was a sizeable Parliamentary revolt from the Conservative backbenchers, with the Government’s majority reduced to just under 20. These two Parliamentary factors meant that the Government had to abandon its approach.

Fiscal considerations have played a role in the second third cases which emerged last week. The Government’s plans for rail and, in particular, the abandonment of the eastern leg of HS2 and the scaling back of Northern Powerhouse Rail has provoked much opposition.

As Tim Pitt, a former Treasury Special Adviser, has pointed out, capital spending for the forthcoming years is remarkably high by historic standards, but the Government still has to make choices. Ministers have reached the conclusion that there are better ways of spending this money than delivering on their promises on these two projects.

This might be a reasonable assessment (I questioned the business case for the eastern leg of HS2 when I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury), but the problem is that these promises had been made and reiterated by the Prime Minister.

The row over social care is also tricky. Even after the announcement of an increase in National Insurance Contributions (which will become the Health and Social Care Levy), there are still choices to be made, and the Government has chosen to take a tougher approach to the means test than expected.

Personally, I think the Government has got its priorities wrong on social care (I believe that we should ask more from those with large estates who face social care costs), but any government has to make choices. Again, the problem is that the new approach falls below expectations.

In both cases, the Government cannot prioritise everything (even if it has a tendency to promise everything). Tough choices have to be made.

Of growing political salience is our fourth example: migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. This is the sort of thing that was supposed to stop with Brexit, apparently (for reasons that have never been clear), and it leaves the Government unusually vulnerable to an attack from the Right.

What could be more damaging to it is the sense of powerlessness. It is not obvious that the Government knows what to do about the problem, hence we have a different story each day as to what could be done (including processing asylum applications in Albania, which came as a surprise to the Albanians).

No Government could find an easy solution to this issue. Some might try building a close and co-operative relationship with the French; this Government tries haranguing them instead. It is not clear that this is working.

Whilst we are discussing diplomacy, the ongoing negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol demonstrate that this Government does not always get what it wants (even in the oven-ready deal that it put at the heart of its general election campaign and which it has ever since tried to rewrite), and this constitutes the fifth case.

By the looks of it, the Government is backing away from triggering Article 16, which is just as well. This would have resulted in a trade war which would have disproportionately damaged the UK economy and left us isolated from the EU and US. After a lot of huffing and puffing, the Government looks as if the role of the European Court of Justice is not quite so central, after all.

The sixth and final example is the non-appointment of Paul Dacre as chair of Ofcom. Having clearly encouraged him to apply, refused to accept his rejection by the interview panel but changed the remit of the role to increase the chance of him being viewed as appointable, the Government went to great lengths to get their man.

Dacre, however, has declared that he has had enough and withdrawn his application, complaining about how someone “from the private sector who, God forbid, has convictions” was never going to be accepted by the civil service “Blob”.

As it happens, the original interview panel was predominantly made up of people from the private sector. and it would be entirely reasonable if they concluded that Dacre’s strong “convictions” sat uneasily with chairing a regulator that holds the ring on broadcasters’ bias. An independent public appointments regime is a necessary check and balance and, ultimately, the system worked as it should have done.

Bring these cases together and a pattern emerges. The Government wanted to protect Owen Paterson, build the eastern leg of HS2 and the cross-Pennine rail line, ensure no one has to sell their house to pay for social care, stop migrants arriving here in small boats, remove the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, and appoint Paul Dacre as Chair of Ofcom. For one reason or another, it is not able to do any of those things.

Does this reveal that the Government is close to collapse? No, it does not. Governments do not always get their way and, as I have written elsewhere, I think the great likelihood is that Boris Johnson will lead the Conservatives into the next election (and, as it happens, I think he will probably win it).

To some extent, this is all just reality reasserting itself. Being in Government is fabulous, but it is also hard. It involves trade-offs and prioritisation and compromise. Not every problem is solvable; not every call can be answered. You do not always get your way.

The problem for the Prime Minister is that much of his considerable voter appeal has been to dismiss the pettifogging concerns of the doomsters and gloomsters. Complexity is for wimps. So-called problems are merely trivialities that can be overcome with a bit of oomph and optimism.

This certainly raises expectations. As these six recent examples demonstrate, however, it does not reflect the realities of governing. Eventually, reality – whether political, economic or diplomatic – prevails.

Adrian Lee: Sixty five years on, how the Suez Crisis affected the direction of British Conservative policy

20 Nov

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Late on the evening of November 5 1956, an advance party of British soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment led by Brigadier M.A.H. Butler, dropped on El Gamil Airfield in Egypt. The Anglo-French re-conquest of the Suez Canal Zone had officially begun.

The airfield was swiftly secured by the British, enabling the remainder of the battalion to be flown in by helicopter. The British forces then pushed on relentlessly to their main target, the city of Port Said. Despite strong Egyptian resistance, and with close support from fighter planes from the three British aircraft carriers nearby, they were able to secure the beach in time for the assault by 42nd and 40th Commando of the Royal Marines at dawn the following morning.

Meanwhile, the French forces were supported by two aircraft carriers, launching a similarly successful attack with paratroopers from their 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment on Port Fuad. The European forces appeared unstoppable, but the mission was forsaken before it started.

On November 2 the USA, with Soviet support, successfully proposed Resolution 997 (ES-1) at the United Nations calling for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of forces from the Suez Canal. Anthony Eden’s government then came under massive political and economic pressure from Eisenhower’s American administration to cease hostilities immediately.

Britain and France, just 24 hours away from complete control of the Suez Canal, reluctantly complied. The outcome of this Crisis was an undoubted humiliation for both countries and signified the end of independent strategic operations without American approval. The consequences for the international order have been debated for decades, but, in contrast, little attention has been focused upon the impact of Suez on the future direction of British Conservative policy.

The maintenance of the British Empire had been a cornerstone issue for pre-war Conservatives, leading them to enthusiastically embrace protectionism but the world had moved on by the time that the Conservatives returned to power in 1951. India had gained its independence and the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1949 acknowledged that all members were able to leave the embrace of the mother country at will.

Leo Amery, one of the casualties of the 1945 election cull, who had originally entered Parliament in 1911 as an enthusiastic Chamberlainite Tariff Reformer, had spent his career championing the unity of the Empire. With the Empire in decline, Amery now turned his attention to the battered continent of Europe as a possible replacement and as “a positive antidote to socialism”.

He wasn’t the only Conservative to become besotted with European prospects; Duncan Sandys (Churchill’s son-in-law), Robert Boothby (a European Federalist since the 1920s) and Harold Macmillan (an admirer of Jean Monnet) all became involved in the United Europe Movement (U.E.M.) during the years in opposition after 1945. The U.E.M. held its inaugural meeting at the Albert Hall in May 1947 and Sandys used all his powers of persuasion to obtain Churchill’s consent to serve as first Chairman.

Sandys had also been the main driver behind Churchill’s earlier “Europe Unite” speech at the University of Zurich in September 1946. The pinnacle of Conservative Europeanism came with the tabling of a Parliamentary EDM on 16th March 1948, drafted by Boothby and signed by 58 Tory MPs, calling for the creation of a “Western Union”. The influence of the Europeanists significantly declined after the Conservatives returned to power in 1951 and when Ministers were faced with the practical task of managing the remaining Imperial territories.

In the early 50s, Britain’s decline of influence was felt most acutely in the Middle East. Conservatives felt that we had been chased out of Palestine in 1948 and had been humiliated in the 1951 Iranian Abadan Crisis and the attempt to nationalise Anglo-Iranian Oil. Increasingly concerned about negotiations over the future of Sudan, backbenchers began to fear that the next outpost to be abandoned would be the Suez Canal.

The Suez Group of Conservative MPs was formed to maintain the Commonwealth as a political and military entity in the belief that, in order to continue being one of the “Big Three” powers, Britain must continue to act as America’s equal. Any retreat from Britain’s global commitments was viewed as fatal to prestige and would inevitably lead to decline to a second-class power.

The founders of the Suez Group were Captain Charles Waterhouse MP and Leo’s son, Julian Amery. Amery became de facto leader almost immediately, with the first meeting being held at his father’s house in Eaton Square on October 5 1953. The Group grew to number over 50 MPs, many of whom were from the new intake and destined to dominate the Conservative Right in future decades. These included Angus Maude, Richard Body, John Biggs-Davison and Enoch Powell (who served as joint Group Secretary with Amery).

The immediate practical aim of the Group was to force the government to maintain a strong military presence on the Canal, but the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, decided to withdraw the British bases and thus grant Egypt’s strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser, control of the Canal Zone under the terms of the 1954 Anglo-Egyptian Agreement.

Amery believed that withdrawing British troops constituted a “a catastrophic gamble” and placed too much trust in the word of Nasser. He urged military action to retake control of Suez before the Egyptians had the opportunity to renege on the treaty and unilaterally nationalise the Anglo-French owned Canal.

Enoch Powell disagreed, arguing that it was too late to act and the moment had passed when Britain closed the last military base. The majority of the Suez Group sided with Amery and, following Nasser’s nationalisation speech in Alexandria on July 26, lobbied Eden, by now Prime Minister, into launching a full-scale invasion.

The failure of the intervention and America’s opposition to Britain and France led to anti-Americanism spreading throughout the Conservative Right. Significantly, the experience caused Powell to abandon concern for the declining Empire and the new Commonwealth (perceived by him as “a costly fiction”) and to seek a post-imperial national identity.

In doing so, Powell evoked the country’s pre-Imperial past and adopted an increasingly UK-centred, isolationist approach to foreign policy. To Julian Amery, who maintained his love of Empire, this all sounded like “British Gaullism”. Kevin Hickson, in his study Britain’s Conservative Right Since 1945, sees this as a key division on the Conservative Right between the new nationalist vision and the older Imperialist one.

These divisions would eventually crystalize into two wholly different approaches to the looming issue of Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community. The Europeanists started to resurrect their ambitions following Suez.

However, whilst the likes of Amery and Bigg-Davison became enthusiasts for the European Project (and would even go so far as to form the short- lived Pan Europe Club “…to promote the role of Britain as a European nation and work for the unity of all the nations of Europe founded on the Christian tradition and ultimately for their political union.”), Powell, Derek Walker-Smith, John Biffen, Richard Body and Neil Marten opposed British membership on grounds of loss of sovereignty.

In certain respects, the European Union represented to the old Imperial enthusiasts a new manifestation of Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Milner’s Imperial Federation idea with a common external tariff, a common Imperial Parliament and an internal single market to strengthen unity. European divisions would last until 2016 in the Conservative Party. The events of November 1956 certainly cast a long shadow.

Asylum seekers and economic migrants. Where is the place that would allow us to process applications offshore?

19 Nov

It’s been another week where our newslinks have been peppered throughout with stories – few of them good for the Government – about the apparently insoluble problem of would-be illegal entrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

Just yesterday morning, for example, we had France denying that tens of millions of pounds of British money were actually meant to stop all the crossings, which seems to be news to the Home Office; a Minister confirming that only five illegal immigrants have been sent back this year; and a report that the Government wants to spend £100,000 per case to fly those who do cross out to Albania for processing.

This last seems to be news to the Albanians, a member of who’s government has said that the country “will never be a hub of anti-immigration policies of bigger and richer countries”.

Yet as far as the Home Office is concerned, such a hub is precisely what’s required.

The problem is simple enough. People know that once they set foot on UK soil, they are almost certainly going to be able to stay here – especially if they take the precaution of destroying those documents which would allow us to prove their nationality. (Countries are actually pretty reliable at taking back their own citizens, apparently.)

Hence offshore processing. Establish that anybody arriving in this country via illegal means will be flown to a facility in some remote location whilst their case is considered. If they succeed, then happy days. If not, no vanishing into the black economy. They’re suddenly just in whatever country the processing centre is in, and it would be really advisable to still have a passport in those circumstances.

But where? There isn’t a handy North Atlantic island microstate prepared to play the role for the UK the role that Nauru serves in the Australian system. With Albania off the table, presumably the quest continues.

So far, the Prime Minister has cunningly kept this from the top of the news agenda with his self-inflicted sleaze crisis. But whilst overall attitudes towards immigration do seem to have softened since the Brexit vote, the Channel boats are a highly visible, and thus politically potent, example of people defying the rules, desperately trying to reach Britain to escape that terrible warzone, France.

Meanwhile, the would-be bomber in Liverpool has focused attention once again on the fact that so many people are able to simply remain in the country once their asylum claims have been rejected. It’s a toxic combination.