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Chris Mason: Sunak, Starmer and their small boats row

  • By Chris Mason
  • Political editor

Legend, As of April 21, 6,265 people had crossed the Channel aboard small boats since the start of 2024

There is a single word at the heart of the political row between the Prime Minister and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer over illegal immigration.

The issue of people on small boats crossing the English Channel is so controversial that even the terminology of the subject is contested.

There are asylum seekers who have applied for refugee status and are awaiting a decision. There are refugees. There is illegal immigration. Overlapping descriptions and labels, many of which provoke fury and anger.

And so to this word – amnesty. Both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir are seeking to weaponize this, to make what they see as a negative point about their opponent.

The Labor leader accused Mr Sunak of a “Travelodge amnesty” – people who arrive on small boats and are, under British law, illegal immigrants. They are stuck in British hotel limbo, representing a significant cost to the taxpayer.

By the way, Sir Keir did this by projecting a confidence I had never seen in him before.

Not just his attitude on stage, but also his willingness to praise a conservative idea – Small Boats Operation Command – to a certain extent, which he claims he would build on. And let’s congratulate a Conservative minister, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk.

This amounted, in short, I thought, to a man looking like an heir.

A man – after these local election results and the second Tory defection to his party in a fortnight – who may well feel closer than ever to the prospect of becoming Prime Minister.

Sir Keir’s labeling of the Tories’ so-called ‘Travelodge amnesty’ is an attempt to push back against the Tory description of Labour’s plan to allow people arriving on small boats to claim asylum.

Yes, you guessed it, the conservatives also describe this as an amnesty.

Both leaders clearly see political value in projecting aggression on this issue and portraying their opponent as weak, even soft.

The big picture here, recognized by both of them and illustrated in this example, is that it is deeply complex and there is no ready-made panacea.

What are you doing about the huge backlogs of work? How can we dissuade people from crossing the Channel? Is deterrence even possible?

What does fairness and justice look like for people considering crossing the border, for others seeking a legal route to the UK, and for the UK taxpayer? Are international legal frameworks, national laws or agreements with other countries up to the challenge?

It is essential to return more people who have not been granted asylum to their countries of origin.

BBC Verify explored how this might apply to recent small boat arrivals.

Vietnamese – 1,266 in total – and Afghans – 1,216 people – make up the two main nationalities arriving in the UK in this way so far this year.

The second most common nationalities to arrive via this route between January 1 and April 21, 2024 were Iranians, Syrians and Eritreans.

Of these five countries, the government has only a return deal with Vietnam, so ministers in that or any future government would need to negotiate deals with the other four if asylum seekers’ demands were rejected.

Additionally, none of them are currently on the government’s list of where people can be returned safely, posing a further potential challenge.

It is up to Mr Sunak, Sir Keir and others to win the debates and build trust on this most difficult issue, emotionally, diplomatically and politically – and seek solutions. However partial, long and costly they may be.

News Source :
Gn world

jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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