Chris Mason: Sunak, Starmer and their little boats rowing

  • Written by Chris Mason
  • Political editor

Comment on the photo, As of April 21, 6,265 people have crossed the English Channel in small boats since the start of 2024.

There is one word at the heart of the political row between the Prime Minister and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer when it comes to unauthorized immigration.

The issue of people crossing the English Channel in small boats is highly controversial, and even the terminology of the subject is in dispute.

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

And so to this word – pardon. Both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir are seeking to weaponise what they see as a negative point towards their opponent.

The Labor leader accused Mr Sunak of issuing “Travelodge amnesties” – people who arrived in small boats and are, under UK law, illegal immigrants. They are stuck in UK hotel limbo at taxpayer expense.

Incidentally, Sir Keir did so while exuding a confidence I have never seen in him before.

Not just his style on stage, but his willingness to praise the Conservative idea – commanding small boat operations – rather toughly, which he claims he will build upon. He paid tribute to the Conservative minister, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk.

I thought it was like a man with the appearance of an heir.

Sir Keir’s naming of the Conservatives’ alleged “Travelodge amnesty” is an attempt to respond to the Tories’ characterization of Labour’s plan to allow people who arrived on small boats to apply for asylum.

Yes, you guessed it, conservatives are calling it an amnesty too.

Clearly, both leaders see political value in showing aggression on this issue and portraying their opponent as weak, even soft.

The big picture here, which they both acknowledged and which is illustrated in this example, is that this is very complex and there is no ready-made magic bullet.

What do you do about the huge number of people? How do you create deterrents for crossing the Channel? Is deterrence even possible?

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

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

BBC Verify looks at how this applies to new arrivals with small boats.

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

The next most common nationalities arriving this way between 1 January and 21 April 2024 are Iranians, Syrians and Eritreans.

In addition, none of them are currently on the government’s list of places where people can be safely returned, posing another potential challenge.

It is up to Mr Sunak, Sir Keir and others to win arguments and gain trust on these most difficult, emotional, diplomatic and political issues – and to grapple to find solutions. It may also be partial, long and expensive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *