I drove down to Folkestone to take Eurotunnel over to France for my god-daughter’s wedding but I didn’t make the crossing and missed the wedding. Instead my wife and I sat at the Eurotunnel terminal for five hours, ate our sandwiches and drove back home.
It’s hard not to feel some sympathy with the luckless lorry drivers stuck in Operation Stack on the M20 and now in RAF Manston. Many frustrated tourists too think that we should take a lesson from history, run a chevachee through northern France and retake Calais.
Well, it’s true that the stroppy stevedores and seamen under the leadership of the colourful Eric Vercoutre need to face their Agincourt. But the migrants at Coquelles whose repeated incursions into the tunnel continue to disrupt traffic are not a problem of France’s making.
The blame belongs to the wretched Schengen Area by which an individual landing in the south can make his way to Calais or anywhere else for that matter. The French didn’t let the migrants in, they don’t want them and they argue with considerable justification that it’s not a French problem.
However, it’s not reasonable to argue, as some French commentators do, that this is a British problem simply because the migrants are trying to cross the Channel in order to reach this unlikely latter-day El Dorado. The problem is with Schengen and more broadly with the EU. Put simply, if a migrant arriving in the south is believed to be bound for a destination in the north, what incentive is there for the border formalities in the south to be too fastidiously observed? As The Daily Telegraph reported last year, Bulgaria even offers citizenship for sale and, of course, a Bulgarian passport confers the right to live anywhere in the EU.
So what does our Prime Minister come up with to tackle this problem root and branch? Obviously he must be seen to do something or his wished-for referendum result may take a beating when voters get sufficiently browned off and identify the EU as the source of the problem.
“What the French need”, he muses in that relaxed and urbane way he has, “is some excellent sniffer dogs and some fencing from B&Q. That should sort it”.
I like the French but there are aspects of their culture that are uncharted territory for me and their sniffer dog deficiencies fall squarely into that category. I suppose that the Gallic canine nose lacks the sharpness of its Britannic counterpart, probably on account of the pungent atmosphere suffused with garlic and Pernod in which it exercises its métier.
Possibly the habit of Gitanes with its breakfast or generous dabs of Chenil N°5 behind the ears deals a fatal blow to your French dog’s olfactory acuity. Perhaps all French dogs are toy poodles and refuse point blank to leave their Hermès handbags and do a day’s work. It’s all a bit of a mystery since every second gate post in France seems to bear a “Chien Méchant” sign and if you’ve been cooling your heels in Folkestone for five hours, you’re not going to cavil at a bit of ‘méchant’.
If Britain needs to send the French some quality sniffer dogs, then it’s fair to assume that the CRS don’t have an animal welfare brigade and it would be as well to send over a platoon of motorised RSPCA officers in their nice uniforms to make sure our canine compatriots aren’t mistreated by their French handlers. And against the eventuality that a British dog takes a nip out of a migrant we ought to despatch some observers from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and Action Aid.
Now about the fencing, £7 million worth, there’s not much to say except to commiserate with a country that has been so poorly managed that it can’t afford to pop down to Leroy Merlin or Bricomarché and pick up the necessary. After all, we can hand over half that amount before breakfast and see it vanish before lunch and not batmanghelidjh an eyelid.
In any case, if the French really need help with fencing, the best favour we could do them is to put them in touch with the Germans because they are the acknowledged experts in this kind of thing. What’s more, Mrs Merkel spent thirty five years living behind quite a big fence which is no longer used and which could probably be shipped off to the neighbours cheap along with an assortment of watch-towers and tank traps.
So David Cameron may have hoped to get an ‘E’ for effort on his holiday assignment but only deserves an ‘I’ for ineffectual. What he finds impossible to grasp is that there is an intractable and knotty problem which needs to be addressed and that a decision needs to be taken, which involves not only Britain and France but the EU and the wider world. Whichever way it goes, any resolution needs must offend a sizeable chunk of the population. Cameron’s hallmark, inertia hand in hand with tokenism, is politically safe but sadly visionless and serves the country ill.