By Baron Clarke of Nottingham, served as Home Secretary from 1992 to 1993 and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1993 to 1997
Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat, makes its way towards migrants travelling in an inflatable boat across the English Channel
I also don’t have a reputation for being particularly tough on immigration. I have often advocated the benefits migrants bring to our country.
But there is no doubt that doing nothing about illegal immigration is not an option. Everyone knows that it is a huge problem, and that, if we cannot find a solution, people will die in the Channel in considerable numbers by taking risks as they come here.
In the Mediterranean, 2,000 people have died trying to cross it this year alone. We must not allow a similar situation to develop in the Channel.
We all admit that illegal immigration is a global problem, so if we suddenly become an easier country than others, we are likely to face significant pressures as more and more people try and reach our shores.
The numbers crossing the Channel have more than quadrupled in the past two years. If nothing is done, these numbers will carry on increasing at a dramatic rate, putting pressure on coastal communities.
We all want to retain our excellent reputation – it is not unblemished, but better than those of most other European countries – for good race relations and an integrated community. During my lifetime, Britain has become a multicultural, multiracial society, and I am glad to say that I think the majority of my fellow citizens feel that the contribution that has been made and the improvements to our society are quite substantial as a result.
But concern about the dinghies and old fishing boats bobbing on the ocean will, if we are not careful, stir up all the bad feelings that we used to know, which we remember only too well from a generation or two ago. That is why more than 60 per cent of our population wish to stop illegal immigration.
I am a lawyer and have a huge respect for the law – abiding by the rule of law is one of the most important underlying principles of our constitution – but we cannot simply produce a lot of legalisms to shoot down the Rwanda scheme without making any suggestion whatever of a practical kind that is likely to have an impact on a great national problem, which we share as part of a global issue.
We do need a solution to this problem and the only one on offer is the extraordinary one put forward by the Government – that we simply cease to entertain illegal immigration and deport to safe places.
Importantly, in all the debate about the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill, no one has advanced an alternative. I have listened keenly for an idea of how else we might deal with the mounting issue of irregular migration, but answer has come there none.
People can make objections to the Rwanda scheme, they can point out legal complications with it, but they don’t have a plan of their own. So, the choice is between doing nothing and Rwanda.
I am not always an admirer of the Government. But I must give credit to it for the protection that we have offered to those fleeing persecution. We have done well with Ukrainian refugees, with thousands of families opening their homes to them. We have lived up to our obligations to the people of Hong Kong, creating a route for more of them to come here. We have also admitted a lot of people from Afghanistan, although we could have made a better job of that.
We are making our contribution to the global problem and taking a huge net increase to our population each year; we are getting some benefit, as it is helping our workforce. We are not becoming a walled-in, closed country. That is a good British contribution to a tremendous problem for the whole of the Western world.
I cannot be certain that this policy will succeed, it is – after all – the first time this has been tried. But we can no longer simply do nothing. We must give the Rwanda scheme a chance to work.
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