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Leader comment: Suella Braverman’s careless talk of ‘invasion’

04 November 2022

THE day after a disturbed man fire-bombs a migrant reception centre and then takes his own life, the Home Secretary might be expected to attempt to defuse the situation, reassuring those who await the processing of their asylum claims that they will be protected, and reminding the UK population of its shared commitment to acting humanely in a challenging situation.

Suella Braverman spoke accurately when she appeared in the Commons on Monday to make a statement about the fire­bombing and to defend her record at the Manston im­­migration centre, where she has been accused of allowing asylum-seekers to remain in unhealthy conditions. “Let us be clear about what is really going on here. . . The system is broken. Illegal migration is out of control, and too many people are more interested in playing political parlour games and covering up the truth than solving the problem.” But this is an incomplete quotation. Among the sentences omitted here is: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not.” It was not just Opposition MPs but Conservatives who called this “inflammatory” and “completely unacceptable”. Sir Roger Gale MP warned that it “might well incite an unpleasant element in British society to violence”. In his view, such rhetoric creates its own truth. Thus, tales of young men entering houses and gardens near the coast are used to replace pity with fear. Ms Braverman claimed to “speak for the decent, law-abiding, patriotic majority of British people from every background who want safe and secure borders”. Should “invasion” language take hold, she might soon be right.

Of course, the number of those risking their lives in boats in the Channel is unacceptable. Of course, their exploitation by people-smugglers is pernicious. But if ever there was a problem that should be dealt with upstream (metaphorically) and co-­operatively, it is mass migration from countries rendered unsafe by conflict, climate change, financial hardship, or political mismanagement. The withdrawal of the pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of the UK’s GDP on international aid in 2019 was just an early example of the drawing in of horns now seen in many developed nations. But what needs to be “safe and secure” is the world, not individual national borders. We welcome Tuesday’s statement by Mr Sunak that the UK would “always be a compassionate, welcoming country”. But, for this to be true, he must rein in some of his colleagues, who, seeing the rise in popularity of anti-immigration extremists, quietly adopt their language; for the next step is to adopt their policies; the final step, their tactics.

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