Rafael Behr is right to draw attention to both the unworkability and the inhumanity of the proposed illegal migration bill (‘Stop the boats’ shows how Britain is really being governed: by Tory campaign leaflet, 14 March). But it is also important to look beyond domestic concerns. At a time when displacement across borders due to war, climate breakdown and economic collapse are becoming increasingly common, Britain risks joining a growing list of privileged countries whose actions threaten to undermine the basic right to seek asylum from persecution. Already, the US is turning away refugees at its southern border, and the militarisation and criminalisation of asylum in the Mediterranean is well entrenched.
Countries adjacent to crises are the primary hosts of most of the world’s refugees. They are not blind to the hypocrisy of wealthy nations, which insist that refugees be supported and protected “over there” while relying on hostile and legally dubious solutions to prevent them coming “over here”. If the world’s richest countries are prepared to undermine its norms, the international refugee protection regime risks descending into a free-for-all, where each country will act as it sees fit – denial of refugee status, detention, violent pushbacks and forced repatriation – with the rights and needs of vulnerable people relegated to an absolute last priority.
Ordinary people with the least to give are often the most generous when hosting refugees in need. Rather than piling cruelty upon cruelty, governments should seek to build on, support and encourage this generosity, regardless of where it occurs.
Senior research fellow, Humanitarian Policy Group
Rafael Behr’s statement could be rephrased as a question: why has Westminster ceased to be a serious deliberative chamber, one where the great issues of the day are debated in a serious manner? This “mother of parliaments” is much diminished and debate seems to be conducted in simplistic terms that are common in the tabloids. Simple headline-catching statements are applauded as the epitome of parliamentary practice. If there is a principle that dominates parliamentary practice, it is political expediency.
When Aneurin Bevan spoke against the folly of the Suez war, he knew that it would probably cost his party votes, but he could not remain silent when the government was committed to this immoral policy. Today, silence is the preferred strategy: don’t alienate potential voters and risk losing the next election. Any political nonsense is preferred to vote-losing truths.
Rafael Behr’s article refers to the MP Scott Benton citing the Tory mantra of “lefty lawyers and celebrity do-gooders”. I am unable to determine why these people are sneeringly considered by Tories to be beyond the pale. Lawyers, whether they are of the right or left persuasion, are simply lawyers doing a job. Do the Tories sneer about lefty dentists? I was brought up to believe that doing good was a good thing, but Benton sneers at the concept. Has he thought about this, or is it just mindless caterwauling?
Rafael Behr says the “stop the boats” policy is built to fail. After the second reading in the Commons last week, built to sink seems more cruelly apt.