Merkel with Turkish PM Erdogan
The evolution of the immigration crisis, and Europe’s response to it, becomes increasingly bizarre. If it weren’t so tragic and serious, you could call it farcical. Yet in a way it’s a metaphor and an example for the sort of knee-jerk compassion that we saw from Simon Schama on BBC Question Time in Dover last Thursday.
Or in that letter from 84 Church of England Bishops insisting the UK admit an extra 30,000 Syrians beyond the 20,000 to which Cameron has already committed.
As I Tweeted when I read the story, I wonder if those 84 Bishops are prepared to house and finance 30,000 more migrants? Or do they expect the rest of us to pay for their compassion and generosity?
By the way, why does the Church of England need as many as 84 bishops? I thought they were strapped for cash? But if we could billet say 100 migrants per Episcopal Palace, there’s 8400 housed straight away.
There’s a tendency for the soft left (which now clearly includes the Church of England, as well as Simon Schama) to respond to any human crisis with a flourish of knee-jerk compassion. The trouble is that they never pause to think of the practical, economic or democratic consequences. The housing lists. The NHS over-crowding. The schools where few pupils speak English as a first language. The low-wage economy and the Treasury’s deficit. And the fact that recent polls show immigration to be the biggest current worry for voters. Throw open the flood-gates first, they say (and I make no apology for the entirely appropriate metaphor “flood-gates”), and pretend we know how to deal with the consequences later on.
I don’t normally regard Angela Merkel as “soft-left”, but she certainly let the desire for political posturing stand in the way of her judgement on this issue. First, it was “Let ‘em all come”. Anyone from Syria was entitled to asylum (and that’s around 23 million). Note how the definition of “Asylum seeker” has been broadened out to include millions – not just those with “a well-founded fear of persecution”.
Now it’s anyone from Syria. But how do you know that the asylum seeker is indeed from Syria? Especially if on the sea crossing they’ve thrown away any papers they had. Simon Schama had a quick answer “You know they’re Syrian because they speak Arabic”. His sally was greeted with appreciative mirth by the QT audience, as though he’d scored a point. I had to remind him that Arabic is spoken widely across the Middle East and North Africa. You might as well say that speaking English proves a person comes from London. I know of at least one case of a migrant claiming in impeccable Arabic to come from Syria. The only problem was that he pronounced his Arabic in a clear North African accent.
But within weeks the crisis had grown out of control, there was chaos across Eastern Europe, and Merkel’s ratings were dropping like a stone. She started to come under pressure not just from the German public and from political opponents, but from her own party. So the high-flown rhetoric of compassion was replaced in short order with barriers and barbed wire, and proposals for concentration camps (sorry, “holding centres”) on Germany’s southern borders.
Now we have the proposed EU/Turkey deal (which Prime Minister Erdogan reportedly – but rightly – calls “bribery”.
In simple terms, the EU has offered Turkey’s 75 million citizens a much more generous visa régime (How generous? No doubt time will tell), and accelerated accession negotiations, in exchange for cooperation in stemming the tide of refugees. There are many problems with this scheme. First, Austria and France have both promised referendums prior to Turkish accession, so Turkish membership is not in Angela Merkel’s gift. Secondly, opinion in Turkey is hardening against the two million migrants there already, so Erdogan will not win many votes by stopping them from leaving. Thirdly, to judge by newspaper reports, there’s a flourishing cottage industry on the west coast of Turkey selling inflatables and other impedimenta of the sea voyage to would-be migrants. So if there is an EU/Turkey deal, it won’t stick.
But where is the logic in offering free access to the EU (either with “relaxed visas”, or with EU membership) to 75 million Turks, in the vague hope that they might obstruct access to a couple of million other migrants?
As people get older, I’m told they are increasingly amazed by the follies they see around them. I’m a year older than I was when last elected, and I notice myself using the phrase “You couldn’t make it up” more often than I should. But in this case, you really couldn’t make it up.