It’s always pleasant to see a reactionary governmentÂ hanging by its own petard when it tries to play the immigration card, but the UK Border Agency ‘relaxed border controls’ pseudo-scandal encapsulates so much that is toxic aboutÂ theÂ British ‘debate’ on immigration that theÂ frisson wears off quite quickly.
First we haveÂ a Coalition government which has done so much to pander to anti-immigrant xenophobia, frantically trying to defend itself against media accusations that UKBA’s ‘failure’ during the summer let in hordes of terrorists, criminals and ‘illegal immigrants’.Â Â Then there is the Labour opposition attempting to score cheap political points by accusing the government of incompetence and ‘weakening our borders’, just asÂ the Conservatives used to do whenÂ Labour was in power.
Thus we have Yvette Cooper asking Theresa May ‘how many terror suspects’ were allowed into the country as a result of the relaxed controls – a ridiculous question designed purely for political effect, sinceÂ travellers comingÂ through UK ports and airports do not generally have ‘terror suspect’ listed in their passport or included in their biometric data.
Cooper has tried to extract maximum political capital from the ‘bordergate’ scandalÂ by linking UKBA’s supposed failings to the Coalition’s cuts agenda -Â but the assumptions behind her accusationsÂ are the same – that UKBA officialsÂ simply walked away fromÂ ports and airports to have a cup of tea andÂ do the crossword, while hordes of criminals and terrorists happily skipped through the abandoned immigration desks and smart ‘e-border’ gates.
What appears to haveÂ happened is that UKBA stopped checkingÂ biometric chipsÂ on some travellers and allowed other non-EU travellers to enter the UK after checking their visas, but without asking follow-up questions.Â Â Anyone who has witnessed travellers ineffectually waving their passports around in an attempt toÂ screen their biometric chips knows thatÂ the smartness of these ‘e-borders’ has been somewhat exaggerated.
The idea that these procedures constituted a fatal breach of national security is based on the purely speculative notions that a) thousands of criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants pass through the UK everyday and b)that asking follow-up questions and checking biometric data would have revealed their real intentions and identities.
None of this matters for the British tabloids however,Â whichÂ have been working themselves into a latherÂ of righteous fury against UKBA,Â the government, and above all against immigrants.Â Â As always theÂ Daily Mail has led the charge, accusing the government of allowing thousands of ‘danger migrants’ to enter the UK.
The tone of its arguments was set by Melanie Phillips,Â for whomÂ ‘Â Â The chaos at the Border Agency reflects nothing less than the crisis over Britainâ€™s very soul’.
With her usual bug-eyed intensity, Â and her prose creaking under the weight of impossible and incoherent ideas,Â Phillips argues that UKBA is a product ofÂ a broader demoralisation of British society produced byÂ ‘ the iron grip on the political psyche of the belief that upholding theÂ cultural identity of the nation is racist. Immigration has thus long been the driver of a cultural transformation that dare not speak its name.’
For Phillips ‘Â The real culprit is surely a political culture that years ago lost the plot on national identity and race relations â€” and the legacy of which is an administrative class whose resulting attitudes are simply inimical to the national interest.’
This cultural transformation was spearheaded by aÂ Labour conspiracy to destroy Britain’s ‘ancient national identity’ through ‘mass immigration’ and the promotion of multiculturalism, since ‘Labour despised the very idea of national identity based on Britainâ€™s foundational culture, history, religionÂ and traditions’ – all of which explains, to Phillips at least, whyÂ UKBA relaxed its border checks during the summer.
Get it?Â Â No, me neither.Â But this frantic drivel was eclipsed two days later by Max Hastings, a columnist who seems to be becoming more rancid and crypto-fascist with each passing month, who argues that
[stextbox id=”alert”]this country has become a magnet for Muslim extremists and indeed terrorists, Russian gangsters, benefit tourists, phoney spouses and make-believe students. We have created an immigration system which exasperates honest travellers, but conspicuously to exclude undesirables. Now we have learnt that its despairing bosses recently washed their hands of their responsibilities altogether: for four months almost anybody who wished could wander into Britain unmonitored.
This is classic Mail hate-mongering, whose assumptions belong toÂ a long xenophobic tradition that reaches back to the Mail‘s coverage of South African Jewish refugees coming to the UKÂ during the Boer War.Â It is also a lie, since travellers were not ‘unmonitored’, butÂ subjected to light-touch checks.Â Â Â Hastings spends much of his time agonizing aboutÂ the numbers of immigrants entering the country andÂ the ‘surge in population’Â which resulted fromÂ New Labour’s supposed conspiracy to transform Britain into a multiculturalÂ society.
For Hastings,Â immigration is never about numbers and bordergate isÂ merely a pretext for aÂ vicious diatribe that would not have been out of place in the mouth of Enoch Powell or the BNP.
[stextbox id=”alert”]To put the matter brutally, neither David Cameron nor Theresa May has to live in Southall, Bradford or Tower Hamlets. They do not experience at first-hand the bitterness of traditional English people, who see their communities overtaken, their culture pushed aside, by people who force a path into Britain without the smallest desire, or even willingness, to embrace our ways or share our values.
Hastings does not need to say who these ‘traditional English people’ are, orÂ identify the ethnic or nationalÂ origins of theÂ immigrant invaders who are destroyingÂ ‘their culture’ and refusing to embrace ‘our ways.’Â Â Â Â Others will make the necessary connections. ThisÂ has beenÂ the position ofÂ the Mail in British culture for more than a century – a pool ofÂ bigotry, racism andÂ anti-foreigner hatred, where ‘traditional English people’ can sup on bile and indignation until they becomeÂ bilious with it.
‘Bordergate’ has provided another invitation to the feast.