Fostering a ‘hostile environment’ is wrong when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers and immigrants – and in the wake of Covid, extra barriers for other travellers to the UK is equally short-sighted
Let’s start with something simple. A digitised UK border isn’t a bad idea in principle, and would certainly help modernise an immigration system in desperate need of reform.
But the comments from the home secretary, Priti Patel, about the reasoning for the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system – required for all visitors without a visa or immigration status – gave me pause. “Now we have taken back control and ended free movement, security is at the very heart of our immigration strategy,“ 她说. “Our new approach will make it easier to identify potential threats before they reach the border. The British people will have confidence that the strongest controls are in place to keep them safe.”
It is the instant push to talk about a criminal element that concerns me. I understand that this is the platform Boris Johnson and the Conservatives ran on at the election, but this – in conjunction with plans that would seek to “rapidly remove” asylum seekers who arrive in the UK via unauthorised routes while granting them only temporary protection, with limited rights, if they cannot be deported – smacks of a system that is overly-harsh.
Is this the “global Britain” that represents the image we want to project to the world? One that looks to put more more barriers? When it comes to trade, we want frictionless ease – but want the opposite when it comes to immigration. That seems to me to be us having our cake and eating it. I know the two areas aren’t the same, but they involve similar elements – and surely locked-down borders but free trade don’t go hand in hand as easily as the government seems to think?
I’m not going to rehash the arguments over free movement, that question was settled by the Brexit vote – at least for now. And it is true that the 欧洲联盟 is developing its own similar scheme, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which is expected to apply to UK visitors to the bloc when it launches from 2022. But there is something about both sides potentially paying to have to visit the other that seems counterproductive.
是的, the US runs a similar programme, the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta) – and I’m not against elements of it. Nobody is saying that the UK’s immigration system needs work, but it is more that we are coming at the problem from the wrong angle. Naomi Smith, chief executive of the pro-European campaign group Best for Britain has said that the measures “show the government wants to build fortress Britain.” And I agree.
Fostering a “hostile environment” is wrong when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers and immigrants – and I would argue that extra barriers for other travellers looking to visit the UK is equally short-sighted. There have been plenty of suggestions about how to create a better-functioning immigration system, but the government appears to want to take the swiftest and simplest route.
At a time when we are striking out on our own, in the wake of a pandemic that has meant immense public spending and a big hit to the economy; do we really need extra barriers? Now is a time that we will need allies more than ever – and we shouldn’t be undermining that, in any area.