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Latest Channel crossing tragedy highlights urgent need for long term political solution

By Joe Cooper
15 December 2022

By Joe Cooper

Christmas is meant to be the time of year to bring people together, spending time with your family, friends and loved ones, and celebrating the best that humanity has to offer. How shocking, then, that the country is again waking up to headlines about the deaths of four people in the latest tragic loss of life as a result of the small boat Channel crossings.  

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a distress call came in to the French and British authorities about a small boat in distress. When the coastguard arrived, they rescued some 43 people attempting to make the crossing, with 30 of these being pulled from the freezing water. Tragically, four people were confirmed to have died during this struggle. Yesterday was the latest in a series of crossings which had resulted in the loss of human life – with a similarly harrowing incident occurring in November 2021 when 31 people lost their lives making the journey across the Channel.    

With those on board the small boat confirming that they each paid £5,000 to make the journey, it is little surprise that the focus has again turned to tackling the underlying issue of people smuggling across borders. In a joint statement, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister of Interior and Overseas Territories for France, Gérald Darmanin, said that the tragedy was a “stark reminder of the urgent need to destroy the business model of people smugglers”.  

The incident comes during a week in which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out his Five Point Plan for tackling illegal immigration, including: the introduction of a new dedicated Small Boats Command Centre; streamlining the immigration process, and signing a new deal with Albania to ensure the safe return of those crossing the Channel.  

Cracking down on illegal immigration has long been a red meat issue – one which appeals to its core base - for Conservative Party members and MPs alike, yet the scale of the current crisis saw the Prime Minister adopt a softer tone. In his speech announcing the plan to Parliament, he spoke of the “complex moral dimension” to illegal immigration, both in terms of duties owed to those in need and the importance of ensuring that there is a proper process in place for those seeking asylum.  

Aside from the very real human consequences for the crossings, there are real political implications to be contended with too. While it has been a red meat issue for the Conservative Party, immigration has been a more difficult issue for Labour to contend with – with a raft of views and attitudes across the party’s left, centre and right wings. One of the few perks of being in Opposition is the ability to criticise the Government’s approach without having to seriously contend with the issue on an everyday, operational level.  

To this end, Labour leader Keir Starmer dismissed the Government’s plan as “unworkable gimmicks”, before setting out his proposals to fast track asylum applications from Albania and work upstream with France and other international partners to tackle the problem upstream. With the party looking likely to end up in government after the next election, there is an increasing need for the party to set out its long term solution for the Channel crossings while also providing the scrutiny and accountability of the Government’s existing approach.   

Away from the implications for Westminster politics, the reality is that the Channel crossings are perilous and more lives will be lost without a long-term solution to the crisis. In the meantime, there are a number of fantastic charities such as the Safe Passage, The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Refugee Action who support those affected. With this being the time for giving, why not consider donating today.