JAMES Brokenshire MP is the Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration). I am sorry about all those brackets. He put them there, not me.
As a Tory who often laments the rise in immigration, Mr Brokenshire has a suitable surname. In his eyes, the Shires of old England probably have been Broken.
You know how you can take against someone without knowing much about them. Well, that’s James and me. Perhaps it is the way he pops up on the news, blinking like an unearthed ferret. Can one unearth a ferret? Honestly I have no idea. The image just appeared in my mind.
Brokenshire was on the BBC News yesterday looking all ferrety while saying that reducing net migration to 100,000 was still an “ambition” – even though the figure had reached 330,000, easily rising above David Cameron’s pile of no ifs and no buts. You may recall that the prime minister used that figure of speech while promising that net migration would fall to 100,000. Now those ‘iffy buts’ lie scattered around his feet like cigarette butts dropped by a worried chain smoker.
The figure of 330,000 represents the difference between the number of people entering the country and those leaving. It is more than three times higher than the government’s (fairly pointless) target.
Yesterday it was left to Brokenshire to put the government’s increasingly feeble case. So there he was, twitching indignantly for the TV cameras. This was followed by the now obligatory appearance of Nigel Farage (MP for Nowhere-shire, ho-hum) doing his impression of an angry salmon flapping its angry mouth.
Now perhaps it wasn’t Brokenshire’s fault. Maybe it was just unfortunate timing. But as he was on television being all ferrety and twitchy, news was breaking that in Austria the bodies of migrants had been found packed into the back of a parked lorry. This morning as I write the latest headlines suggest that as many as 70 bodies may have been in that lorry. Is it possible to imagine a worst way to die than suffocating in the back of a lorry crammed with desperate humanity? The thought of how those poor people suffered is too awful to contemplate.
At the same time, it is reported that up to 200 bodies have been discovered floating off the coast of Libya. If confirmed, this incident will bring the number of deaths in the Mediterranean this year to 2,500.
It is easy to see why this summer’s migrant crisis is being referred to as Europe’s worst refugee emergency since 1945.
The tide of human misery seems unstoppable, unsolvable.
Yet in the face of such suffering, the response from our government has been insular and xenophobic. Among some Tories and some newspapers, the whole crisis has mostly been reduced to a spot of old-school France-bashing: it’s all the fault of those Frogs.
It’s as if the situation in Calais concerning a relatively small number of migrants, said to be around 3,000, has become the sole focus of their concern. The cry goes up that something has to be done. So David Cameron orders a higher fence – which perfectly encapsulates just how small-minded and insular the whole debate has become.
Apparently our inward-glancing ministers look no further than the end of their front gardens. Raise their eyes and they would see that this is a global crisis, and one in which Britain isn’t exactly showing itself in a flattering light.
Other countries in Europe, in particular Germany and Sweden, face much greater migrant difficulties than Britain does. Germany expects 800,000 asylum seekers and migrants to arrive this year. In humanitarian terms, we should be doing more than building higher fences and moaning about the French.
None of this is easy. Unless you are Nigel Farage doing the salmon mouth flap on the evening news. Or James Brokenshire impersonating a ferret.