Its been a strange week. We had the news yesterday that after a ‘mistake’ by the Home Office over the visa for Ai Weiwei that Theresa May has overturned their decision. The HO had trawled the internet and believed him to be a criminal which then turned out to be incorrect. They did not object to him bringing his criminal mind into the Country in principle, but felt it should be limited to 20 days instead of the 6 months the Artist had requested. However after a major reaction by people who do not believe that internet articles are a reliable source of data, those who think Ai Weiwei is a great artist and that art transcends normal rules and those who think that if a state visit by Xi Jinping is going to be compromised by the dissidents presence, then its the President who needs to suck it up, the Government finally recognised their ‘error’. Politics at this level is tough for a Party that has had a convenient Lib Dem shield to hide behind for the last 5 years. However the real disgrace behind this story is that this form of suspicion and ‘guilty until proven innocent’ which passes for business as usual in the Home Office, has been going on for decades, but has got much worse in the last 5 years. Most people waiting for permission to stay in this country, or trying to enter for legitimate reasons, do not have the public persona or widespread support accorded to Ai Weiwei. I am sure I must be a soft liberal but its time we found a way to synthesise the frustration we all feel when this sort of disgraceful behaviour impacts people we know and those we don’t. I cannot count up how many conferences I have attended when the overseas visitors (usually from Africa) have been held up or were simply denied access to the UK. That sort of approach probably means we need to take on the xenophobia which pours out in the bile from the Daily Mail and other papers. It certainly means we need to win hearts and minds with our neighbours and others in our community, but now that Ai Weiwei is free to come, lets help out the others who have found our borders unwelcoming.
Along with the news from China or at least from Marsham Street where the offices of the Home Office are located, we also have the news from Kent. After 28 years of what is known as Operation Stack, where the M20 is used as a place to hold lorries trying to get across the Channel (by train or ferry) this week it appears that suddenly the Government is listening to Kent County Council, Kent Police and the Road Haulage Industry who have been calling for help for years. It is certainly true that the situation seems worse now than was the case in 2007 when Op Stack had only been implemented 64 times in the previous 20 years. Every time there is a ferry strike, bad weather, train breakdown or problem in Calais caused either by strikers or refugees the system can be implemented. However whilst there may be a particular problem at present, it is fanciful for a Prime Minister of 5 years to speak and act as if the problem is a new one. It is a temporary strategy that is as old as the Simpsons! The fact that the MOD are still considering if they can release some land shows how ill suited that department is to dealing with issues that exist in the real world. They either have suitable land available or they don’t. There is no middle ground (scuse the pun) here.
Finally we have the decision to release a few more dogs and build a bigger more solid fence to hold back refugees and migrants in Calais. The consequence of having a Channel Tunnel is that the border is not fully secure. Shock horror surprise. However we built the tunnel after years of debate, so now lets move on. Refugees and Migrants have been stowing away on lorries and occasionally in cars for decades and certainly long before we had the tunnel. The problem is not the lack of fences or shortage of dogs, it is not the failing of a foreign Police service. We have to stop the dishonest suggestions that somehow these Syrian, Afghan, Libyan, Sudanese and Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers are in Calais because of a failure elsewhere in Europe, apart from perhaps the failure of our nation and the other European nations to deal with International politics and civil war. The actions of our Government this week are as sensible as when the Nazis constructed Colditz, a place from which they believed no one could escape. The human condition is to overcome obstacles, or become overcome by forces outside of our capacity. We live in a society that does not bulldoze settlements, machine gun, gas or bomb residents. The few 1000 people in Calais are the survivors and the most successful and persistent refugees. Their determination will overcome any dog patrols or solid fences. What we need to do is come to terms with that and begin to deal with our International responsibilities in a manner that means we plan for the peace after our interventions and stop blaming the French for our lack of responsibility!