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Seasonal rise in migrants crossing the Channel is nothing compared to surge that awaits the UK when it leaves EU for good

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Seasonal rise in migrants crossing the Channel is nothing compared to surge that awaits the UK when it leaves EU for good
The UK can currently return cross-Channel migrants back to France thanks to the Dublin Convention. But by next year that will no longer apply, leaving it open to waves of new arrivals… with no legal recourse.

As far as classic British summer news stories go, the arrival on our southern beaches of rubber dinghies overflowing with migrants is right up there with the latest missing child cases and tales of rogue seagulls stealing chips from horrified holidaymakers.

And it helps ramp up the tension on this issue when suggestions are made that the Royal Navy be called in to assist the Border Force in stopping the hordes descending on us from the beaches of France.

This is a PR disaster waiting to happen. It would certainly not look good to have a migrant family drown in the Channel when a naval boat’s wake upturned their overladen and miserable little vessel in French territorial waters, or any waters for that matter.

Not quite as potentially disastrous, but still relatively pointless, we have also had Home Secretary Priti Patel opting to have a gander at the situation herself, by climbing aboard a police boat in Dover and heading out to sea for a good look at these poor sods up close.

Surely, we could just give her a megaphone so she could berate those bound for Blighty and they’d turn back well inside French territorial waters: “I say, you, go back! Yes, you! Back! Now!”

Also on rt.com Britannia used to rule the waves, now it attacks defenceless people in tiny boats to deflect from its own sinking status

Whether we are in the middle of a real migrant crisis — as Boat Spotter-in-Chief Nigel Farage would have us believe — or simply experiencing a seasonal upswing is debatable. The number of arrivals in the UK this year is so far around 4,000 people. 

Meanwhile, in Italy that figure is nearly triple that at 11,191 and in Spain, it was 7,744 for the first six months of 2020. In Greece, which sees daily arrivals, more than 120,000 migrants and asylum seekers are stuck in grim holding camps while the government works out what to do with them.

Under the Dublin Convention, which all EU members signed, asylum seekers must seek refuge in the first safe country they enter. So naturally if this was implemented to the letter of the law, there would be a huge southern European bias to this process, as that is the main area of entry. 

Understandably, Italy, Spain and Greece are all keen to see a common European immigration policy in place that would share the numbers of new arrivals with the northern nations in a fairer way.

Britain will play no part in this process, as it will no longer be part of the EU. But its problem is that while it can presently use the Dublin Convention to try to cajole the French into taking back boatloads of migrants on the basis that they were in France — or elsewhere — before heading to Britain, after December 31, when the transition period ends, we do not have a leg to stand on.

This is because there is no such provision in international law that offers the same recourse. The French know this, and they’ll want a more formal scheme in place if they are asked to do anything about illegal cross-Channel migration. In the absence of Dublin Convention 2.0, then that arrangement will almost certainly become more transactional.

The figure floated around thus far is £30m. You can bet that will increase after midnight on December 31.

The criminal gangs fleecing the hapless migrants of their life savings and putting their lives at risk in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes also know this. At the moment, they convince their charges that the UK is a soft touch and once they’re in, they’re in forever.

While that’s not strictly true right now - because there is a chance that if apprehended, there is a legal process in place so that the UK can send them back to whence they came - in a few short months, that will no longer be the case.

With the Home Secretary already moaning about “activist lawyers” undermining her efforts to remove illegal migrants, she might expect pressure from the quarter to increase off the scale at the end of the year.

So Priti Patel and others might talk tough - one of the more conservative Tory MPs even suggested the UK “take over” Calais by returning to 16th century British/French borders - and there might be demands for the Royal Navy to pile in and force oncoming rubber dinghies back to the beaches of Normandy, which will go down a treat with the public.

But it does not address the root problem that the UK, while currently enjoying at least some protection under the Dublin Convention, will have no legal legal leg to stand on once that no longer applies. The clock is ticking. Criminal trafficking gangs are organising right now, and the French are sitting on their hands until we come up with a solution that is worth their while.

The very real fear is, that in terms of illegal arrivals from France, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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