Express reports from Channel as migrant boats approach UK
Hitting the landmark 100,000 figure of illegal migrants recorded as coming over the English Channel on small boats in the last five-and-a-half years seems to be a fitting epitaph on a week where the Government tried, yet failed, to get a grip on this issue.
It portrays a picture of a government which has talked a great game in stopping the boats, however, has failed to deliver.
And we have to remember this issue hit the headlines only because Nigel Farage went out to the Channel and sat on a boat broadcasting the arrival of the migrants: otherwise it would have taken even longer to acknowledge it was a problem at all.
But the people who know most of all the mess this issue has become are the Conservative MPs and candidates who will be knocking on doors to win votes in the coming year.
And while the Bibby Stockholm barge was supposed to be a huge PR success for Rishi Sunak and his Home Secretary Suella Braverman it has actually just underlined their “failure”, as Lee Anderson so bluntly put it.
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Indeed, much as been said about Anderson’s use of the F-word but it was “failure”, not “f*** off back to France” (directed at illegal migrants) which will hurt the Prime Minister most.
And failure now has a new powerful image – a large barge moored in Portland harbour, near Bournemouth.
As one Tory candidate desperately looking for a safe seat told me this week: “That damn barge just highlights everything that is now wrong about government policy.
“The whole story has become about where we house these illegal migrants and not stopping them coming.
“We are supposed to be stopping the small boats not finding new and wonderful ways to put them up at the taxpayers’ expense.”
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The candidate, who has stood before in a Red Wall seat, knows the power of this issue and the frustration is shared with many MPs on the right of the party.
As one put it: “It is a question of where you draw your political battle lines.
“Ours have become over tents or barges or hotels about where to house migrants.
“The French are putting them in shanty towns and tents. We are effectively fighting on the ground the leftwing activists and their friends in Labour want.”
Nothing has highlighted this more than the leftwing activist group Care4Calais playing the news agenda with its objections to illegal migrants going on a barge for being afraid of the water.
The issue in play has to be – as Sunak put it in his five priorities – “stop the boats” nothing else.
One Red Waller looking at grim local polling figures noted: “It is probably already too late but if we don’t stop the boats I have no chance of getting back.”
That is perhaps why at long last Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, a close friend and ally of the Prime Minister, has conceded leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights must come into play now.
It was welcomed by Tories on the right of the party, but inevitably opposed by liberal Tories on the left not least, it is understood, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk and Attorney General Victoria Prentis who would need to bring in reforms.
And it underlines that in a week where Sunak and Braverman were intending to seize the agenda they have looked more at sea than 52 migrants on a flimsy dinghy.
While Ms Braverman has won some plaudits by finally taking on the eftwing activist lawyers, the reality is the only good publicity has come with Mr Anderson telling illegal migrants who don’t lik barges to “f*** off back to France”.
As things stand that seems to be as good a strategy as any.
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