Four months ago, Boris Johnson travelled to Lydd Airport in Kent to make what was billed as a significant announcement about the Government's plan to tackle illegal immigration via the English Channel. Normally, such a statement would have been made by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, but this was "the big one", so the Prime Minister delivered it personally. His pledges excited much media interest and growing optimism that a solution to this crisis had been found. I, for one, never believed a word of it.
The centrepiece of the new plan was that the Ministry of Defence would take charge of the Channel and the Royal Navy would patrol our waters 24 hours a day, intercepting small boats . Armed Forces Minister James Heappey spoke with passion about the deterrent effect this would have.
It was obvious from day one, however, that this idea had not been fully thought through. I interviewed the then-Minister for Tackling Illegal Migration, Tom Pursglove, at the time and explained to him that the Royal Navy would not be able to stop any boats, let alone take anyone crossing the Channel on board, because the gunnels of Royal Naval vessels are too high to safely be able to lift a person from an inflatable dinghy. Pursglove looked bemused when I put this to him, which perhaps tells us all we need to know about the disconnect that exists between Whitehall and the real world.
Those MPs who have been critical of the Royal Navy’s role in tackling illegal immigration, especially at a time of mounting tensions with Russia, have often decried the taxi-service role foisted upon the Navy. If only it was that good. The Royal Navy has humiliatingly been reduced to going around the Channel after the Border Force or the RNLI have picked up immigrants, towing empty dinghies into Dover. I feel very sorry for those young sailors who have been tasked with this. After all, this is not what they signed up for.
Now we know, thanks to The Telegraph , that the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy will soon cease these patrols. Their withdrawal will make no difference whatsoever, though.
Another key plank of Johnson's supposed crackdown on Channel migrants was the Rwanda deal. Voters were led to believe that thousands of illegal immigrants would be sent to that African state. Yet in June, as the first flight was 90 minutes from taking off, a faceless judge from the European Court of Human Rights delayed the process . This was, again, predictable. Many of us have said consistently that only by leaving the ECHR, and by redefining the hopelessly out of date United Nations interpretation of what constitutes a refugee, could the Rwanda plan ever work.
In recent weeks, the Rwandans have said they are only prepared to accept 200 immigrants, forcing Johnson's government to say desperately that it is seeking alternatives. I predict that no flight containing immigrants will ever leave Britain for Rwanda while the ECHR is enshrined in British law via Tony Blair’s Human Rights Act.
Another part of Johnson's immigration plan was to use the deserted RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse to house 1,500 asylum seekers. That idea has now been scrapped as the Government has been forced to recognise the genuine anger, especially in the Red Wall, at hotels all over the country filling up with young men who have arrived in Britain illegally. That anger was present even before anybody knew the extent to which Albanian criminal gangs are using the Channel to get more people involved in their illicit activities in this country.
Government policy on the entire immigration issue is nothing but failure after failure. So what now?
The two MPs currently contesting the Tory leadership, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, seem embarrassed to even mention the problem. Neither of them has a sensible solution. Sunak had the cheek to feature me talking about the crisis in one of his campaign videos, presumably to suggest he takes a hard line, but I don't buy it. Both contenders say they will give Dominic Raab’s new Bill of Rights a chance. This is pointless. The reality is that under international treaties signed by the United Kingdom, the court in Strasbourg will always have superiority.
As is the way with the British Conservative Party, I predict that both Sunak and Truss will argue for "reforms", much as the Tories did in the two decades before the Brexit vote. My message to them is that there are no reforms. Britain will never get a grip on this situation unless we push for Brexit 2.0 to disentangle our nation from the ECHR and to redefine statutes laid down by the United Nations.
Sadly, I do not believe that either of the candidates standing for office has the courage to take on the global establishment. The Channel crisis will worsen and, with it, the Conservatives' poll prospects.
Dealing with a dramatic fall in living standards would be a bad enough problem for a Conservative Party that’s been in power for 12 years. But the total failure to meet a central demand of Brexit voters and 2019 Conservative voters – namely to take back control of our borders – is a disaster.
Britain is being shamed daily via the Channel crisis and the Government is failing in its duty to protect its people. Official figures say more than 20,000 illegal immigrants have arrived this year alone. The true number may be higher. Without a radical new approach, this issue alone will cost the Tories the next election. Voters will not tolerate politicians who over-promise and under-deliver. Nor will they accept being misled.
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