Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Home COVID-19 Shackled Starmer must stay muted on migration

Shackled Starmer must stay muted on migration

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IT’S being reported that the Government is ‘considering’ closing Britain’s borders. Considering? The time for consideration has come and gone, and the time for action was last year.  

Anyone can avail themselves of the lists of inbound flights and see for themselves just how many people are still arriving in the UK each day. 

The enforcement of our flimsy quarantine regulations is so lax that thousands who are alleged to have broken them could not be served a fine as they were not resident in their given address when the police arrived to issue it.  

Though there have been many mistakes made by the Government during the pandemic, few are as clear-cut as this failure to properly control the border.  

While decisions on masks, testing or distancing were subject to muddy science and made without the wealth of knowledge about Covid that we now enjoy, the importance of border control is axiomatic.  

But Keir Starmer, who has been forensic in his critique of every element of government policy, is deafening in his silence when it comes to pointing out the ramifications of a porous border.  

It’s been more than a year since Boris Johnson won his landslide victory. Yet despite all that has happened since, the Labour Party is still only level-pegging with the Tories in the polls.  

Starmer, for all his attempts to wear the Government down with his death-by-a-thousand-cuts attack, is steadfastly refusing to deliver the most withering and salient critique of all. Given that Boris is out playing rush goalie, it’s a head-scratcher as to why Keir is in the box dribbling the ball around in circles.  

Starmer is not benefiting from his teammates, who only want him to score on certain issues, and in very particular ways. And the Labour leader has so far used much of his political capital in intervening to suspend the whip from Corbyn, sacking Long-Bailey, having the audacity to speak in front of a Union Flag, and unwittingly calling BLM a ‘moment’.  

This being the case, when he has moved into striking distance on the question of border control, he boots the ball out for a corner. For example, Starmer has criticised the Government over its ‘incompetence’ in relation to illegal channel crossings.  

It’s a statement designed to obfuscate his real position. No one would argue the Government response has been competent, but it’s not clear in what capacity Starmer thinks this incompetence manifests. Is it in the governmental failure to prevent crossings in the first instance, or in their failure to properly facilitate the crossings?  

The two, of course, are diametrically opposite positions and public opinion leans toward opposition to, rather than support of, cross-Channel migrants. Polling from 2019 showed that 62% of Britons think that migrants who cross the Channel should be denied asylum, and returned to France.  

Polling by Yougov last year indicates just 35 per cent of Britons believe the UK has ‘a responsibility to help protect migrants who are arriving in England after travelling across the channel from France’.  

So we know where the public are on this question if Brexit, the past three EU parliamentary elections and last four general elections weren’t already enough.  

But Starmer is hamstrung by some of his colleagues who deny him the opportunity to even adopt strategic ambiguity, let alone a position of substance. He has been blasted by all wings of the party for failing to adopt a decisively pro-migrant position.  

Labour MPs and members overwhelmingly hold a view on migration contrary to the mass of public opinion. As the Independent reported, elements from across the party were scathing in their response to Starmer’s meek critique of the Government as ‘incompetent’.  

An open letter signed by a number of Labour MPs called for him to ‘campaign for an immigration system that advances the rights of all working people – not divides us by the colour of our passports’.  

Momentum launched a petition and racked up some 4,000 votes, urging Starmer to declare that ‘no one is illegal’. Open Labour, a Starmer-backing group, branded the Labour position as ‘unacceptable’.  

It’s hard to overcome that level of intra-party pressure, particularly when so many are your own supporters. And it’d be even harder to convince the public your own prospective government would introduce meaningful controls at the border when the party in question responds in such a way to strategic ambiguity.  

But it’s not entirely correct to say Starmer is being held back by his party, as though he were Hannibal Lecter, eager to break free of the restraints and introduce tough border control into the party prospectus.  

He has a track record of being soft on legal and illegal migration, an ideological blind spot which is both damaging to his own party electorally, and damaging to the country as our main opposition party continually fails to call out the fact that the emperor has no clothes.  

Starmer was of course the architect of the so called ‘five tests’ – a series of conditions which would have to be met for Labour, then under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, to agree to a Brexit deal. These tests amounted to remaining in the EU, and would have necessitated free movement.  

He was a key player in making sure a second referendum was a feature of the disastrous 2019 election manifesto. And he has a history of describing border controls as ‘racist’.  

As much as Starmer might be willing to cast off his own ideology – as his tenure as leader has so far demonstrated he is capable of doing – he cannot on this issue, because the party he leads has broken with public opinion in a big way.  

For the sake of good governance and effective opposition, he needs to find a way to overcome this hamstringing, and put border control back on the Labour Party’s agenda.  

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Mario Laghos
Mario Laghos is Editor of Just-Debate.co.uk

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