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Ending illegal Channel crossings will require long-term strategy and global leadership.
This summer saw an unprecedented increase in the number of illegal migrants trying to cross the English Channel, taking advantage of the calm seas and fine weather to the point where the Home Office and HM Border Force were tested beyond capacity. To temporarily assist the border patrols with the scale of the challenge, I called for the deployment of military support. The Home Office agreed.
The primary task of our Armed Forces is to defend the United Kingdom and work with our allies to support our interests across the world. They also have a secondary function – as an insurance policy to assist any Government department in times of crisis.
There’s no stigma in asking for military assistance. Through events as diverse as terrorist incidents, the London Olympics and the current pandemic, the flexibility and professionalism of our military personnel has been displayed numerous times.
The Ministry of Defence not only has the built-in resilience to offer support, it is also trained in strategic thinking and emergency response. Our Armed Forces are on the same team and we should be extremely proud and grateful for what they bring to the table.
With border patrols unable to keep migrant crossings under control, it made sense for the Armed Forces to assist in this particular incident. This is not just about additional surface fleet support, but using air ISTAR assets to improve the intelligence picture of vessels’ departure points to allow early interception.
In his book The Art of War, Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu says “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. This very much applies to how we resolve illegal Channel movements. All actions should be the tactical components that form part of the long-term strategy.
We should seek closer co-operation with the French authorities in patrolling the seas. Neither the French nor the British can monitor crossings independently or be expected to police the Channel individually. But it can be achieved collectively.
British interceptors should also be allowed to escort illegal vessels back to France – a safe country from which asylum seekers should not be allowed to travel to the UK. But Britain should agree to accept some genuine asylum seekers who have legitimate connections (such as family members) already in the UK.
Ultimately, to reduce the thoroughfare of migrants attempting the journey, there are two more complex issues to be addressed. First, the breakup of the criminal networks running across Europe from Africa. These gangs are brazenly exploiting the desperate situation of the individuals fleeing their warn-torn home countries, promising them a better life in Europe.
It will take an international effort to shut down these cross-country networks and make people far less likely, or able, to attempt their journey to the UK.
And second, we must confront the inconvenient truth that thousands of people attempt this desperate and perilous journey because it is too dangerous to remain in their home country. Ironically, this is the situation in so many countries where Britain and the West once chose to intervene but subsequently stepped back, including Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.
We must rally Western resolve to re-engage and offer assistance to these failing states
These states have been left with an absence of good governance and security, allowing terrorism and extremism to flourish, as well as people trafficking. It is no wonder these families seek to turn their backs on their homes and their lives, seeking a better life in Europe.
Britain must recognise the bigger picture and show leadership. We must rally Western resolve to re-engage and offer assistance to these failing states via proper investment and support.
There is a sense of moral duty for Britain to better co-ordinate international activity to allow these countries to get off their knees and become safer places for the local populace to live and thrive.
All the more reason not to cut the aid budget, as this is exactly the sort of area where aid could be, and needs to be, better spent.
Tobias Ellwood is Conservative MP for Bournemouth East and chair of the Defence Select Committee