On 24 May Home Secretary Priti Patel was the keynote speaker of the “What’s next for immigration?” online conference hosted by Bright Blue, a “liberal conservative” think tank.
The “new plan for immigration”, she claimed, is simply a “fair but firm” expression of the democratic rights of the people of the UK first in the EU referendum and again in 2019. She lambasted anyone who had the guts to stand up against her government as sowing dissent whilst she is, of course, in line with the opinion of the silent majority of UK citizens with “legitimate concerns”.
Emily Kenway, in her interview with Solidarity on “modern slavery”, explained that as Home Secretary Theresa May used that issue as “a kind of heroic grandstanding as a counterweight to really abhorrent policies.” Patel appears to have learned from the best. One of her proclaimed three key objectives of the “new plan” is “to deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks”, as if the real problem is the “traffickers” rather than the government which bans legal entry to migrants and asylum-seekers.
Characteristically loose on detail, Patel talked about protecting the vulnerable while drawing a bright red line linking dinghies in the channel and the smuggling of drugs and guns. And another between the migrants in Glasgow saved from deportation by community intervention and rapists and murderers being allowed to roam the streets. Who needs a dog whistle?
Patel’s policy empowers the UK Border Agency to seize and dispose of small boats used by undocumented migrants or to redirect them back away from the UK. This won’t protect anyone. Quite the opposite, it could prove deadly: confiscating boats will simply lead to more dangerous vessels being used to reduce the costs of losing a vessel. Rerouting them away from the UK will prolong the length of time migrants spend in small boats in dangerous shipping lanes.
The “new plan” also empowers the home secretary to personally intervene in the immigration process, and to deport someone or not on their individual say-so. Patel boasts about the use of new technologies to “secure” our borders, and greater cooperation between different law enforcement agencies. In practice this means a dystopian expansion of the UK’s border regime further into everyday life, further into hospitals, schools and universities. This again endangers the most vulnerable migrants who will inevitably be forced into more dangerous and precarious forms of work.
Patel repeatedly contended that free movement wasn’t an option. In fact it remains the only coherent option for lessening suffering. Borderscause human trafficking, they cause “modern slavery”. When governments raise borders ever higher and make it more difficult for people to migrate legally, that only makes migrants’ path more dangerous and their life more precarious.
The left and the labour movement must mobilise to oppose the New Plan For Immigration. We must fight for free movement as a human and workers’ right, organising at the rank and file level with migrant workers and protecting those in the most precarious jobs.