Clearly the Cabinet is rattled by the crisis at Calais. The giveaway, as always, is government members ratcheting up the rhetoric on immigration while skipping the bit of the job that involves getting down to lasting solutions.
This morning we had the spectacle of Communities Secretary Greg Clark announcing the latest alleged crackdown on illegal immigration. Troops at Calais? Extra resources to process the claims of people who shouldn’t be here and get them out asap? Well no, not quite.
Mr Clark’s good news for a grateful nation is more of a gift to the headline writers of the Tory press than the residents of Kent and the rest of the country affected by streams of illegal migration. The proposal is to make it easier to evict failed asylum seekers from rented properties.
Just one question then – if it is OK to evict someone from their property without even a court order, as is being suggested, then why is it OK for this so-called Conservative government not to enforce the logical next step and have that person deported from the country? Either someone has the right to be here, after all, or that person does not. It is a typically showboating piece of nonsense from the Conservatives to suggest that somehow making it easier to turf illegal immigrants on to the streets – while then leaving them in the country – is somehow ‘getting tough’ on the number one issue of concern to ordinary voters.
Listening to all this today I couldn’t help wonder if Mr Clark is not following the lead of Theresa May and David Cameron with this little piece of out-of-season panto. Both use the odd verbal flourish to dress up a basic lack of action. Mrs May is famous for her supposed toughness, an image no doubt carefully created by handlers to suggest that the lady who failed to make good the election-time immigration pledge (remember that?) is somehow a second Margaret Thatcher in waiting. The most recent example of this running charade was last week’s announcement that May had chaired a meeting of the Cobra national crisis committee to examine options on Calais. The upshot? ‘Working closely’ with the French socialist administration, whose failure to lift a finger to enforce their own border with Italy is a chief reason Calais, and now Kent, is in such a state.
Likewise, the Prime Minister felt nervous enough to talk about ‘swarms’ of illegal immigrants gathering at Calais. The usual pressure groups (often state-funded) were naturally up in arms. Business as usual from them. But what explains Mr Cameron’s decision to switch from PC-approved terms to discuss immigration to the sort of expression normal people might use to describe the images coming out of the Channel ports? Panic, I’d wager. Panic not so much about current events. Panic about the lack of options when enforcing the law and deporting all in Britain or Calais illegally is both the only available solution and the one thing Mr Cameron seems to have ruled out entirely.
Here’s a tip for Cameron, Clark, and May – voters are not idiots. If you respond to an illegal immigration crisis with a few gestures for the press and a plan to fiddle with private rent rules – while leaving the cross-Channel flow unstopped – voters will see that for what it is. The bottom line on Calais is simple. Either people who should not be here are found, processed, and deported, or they are not. Over to you, Conservatives.