September 10, 2001

You've been Schengened
The Making of a Political Sting

It was quite a turnaround. A problem that had been brewing for months, with sly references in the media to fines for lorry drivers and asylum-seekers in the undercarriages of trains, has suddenly exploded on our TV screens. And how! TV has been nightly showing pictures of, well, attempted invasion. The pictures are graphic, large numbers of young foreign men grouping together to get into the Channel Tunnel, throwing rocks and threatening anyone in their path. If I weren't so trusting, it would make me suspicious. However, good citizen that I am I know that the press would never report an ethnically sensitive incident in a way that would inflame feeling against immigrants. Indeed, during the summer riots in northern England the role of the Muslim gangs was downplayed to insignificance. So why is the press reporting on this "invasion" in a way that I can only describe as provocative?

First, let me clear up any suggestion that there is some bias in Britain's broadcast media. It may be true that both the BBC and Channel 4 are state owned, and run by Labour Party members, but any suggestion that they are either beholden to the government or institutionally left-wing should be disowned. We're British, you see, and we do not do things like that. That's all the evidence anyone should need. Similarly, the fact that "independent" broadcasters are actually dependent on government licenses would not compromise their independence. Perish the thought. Nevertheless, just to humour me, let us imagine that the government-controlled press was playing this up despite their previous record of playing ethnic tension down.

Who benefits? The far right benefit, as it always does when immigration seems to go out of control. I think it is safe to suggest that the governing and reporting classes are not well disposed to the neo-fascist right. There is one other beneficiary, and that is the cause of European integration. Now bear with me for a minute. The European project is in a bit of trouble now. The British public is against the idea of a single currency, although the British government is for it. As the government has been manoeuvred into a pledge to put this to a referendum, this presents a serious problem. There are, however, other ways to integrate into Europe and one of these is to surrender our border.

In the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Union said many things, three of which are interest to us. Firstly it called for a common "area of freedom, security and justice", which means the lack of border control. Secondly, it exempted the UK and Ireland from this. Thirdly, it gave a time span of five years, from 1996, for this to be complete – the whole thing is scheduled for completion at the end of this year. Britain will be out of two major European projects in January 2002. Most people will look at the Euro, but the combination of a promised referendum and public hostility make this unlikely to pass in the near future – much as the government will try. On the other hand, there is the matter of a border-less Europe, in effect giving control of immigration and drugs to the Spanish and Greeks.

Surrendering control of Britain's borders will be a hard sell. However it is not as hard a sell as the Euro, and there is no referendum needed. The alternative is stark for the government, a gradual disengagement from Europe and a realisation that Britain does not need the European project. The government will, however, need a plausible excuse. This is where the illegal immigrants come in, in droves.

The situation with illegal immigration is largely manufactured. That's not to say that there are not large numbers of illegal immigrants, nor that they don't cause problems. What is happening is that immigration is being directly encouraged both by Britain's government and by her neighbours, particularly France.

Firstly, in Britain. The welfare state in Britain may not seem too generous to the British, but it certainly is good to the immigrants. Free housing, free education, free health care and a small income. That's before you become legal (which is far more likely in Britain than elsewhere). If your application for asylum fails then you are highly unlikely to be deported.

Then there's France. The French, bless 'em, are more blatant on this, as they are about most things. Firstly they decide to help the British out, by opening a large camp to feed, clothe and shelter any asylum seekers who happen to want a rest before walking through the Channel Tunnel. The French did plan to tackle this, they said, by opening another camp nearby. Who's perfidious now? This is the fault of the British, says the French ambassador. We offer immigrants too many social security benefits and we do not have ID cards. Some French go even further and say that the French are perfectly entitled to launch this nonmilitary offensive as retaliation for not surrendering our borders earlier. Now the ambassador may be right about the social security benefits (and wrong about the ID cards) but why is he saying this? He's the ambassador, not the proconsul. These are internal matters, to be decided upon by British people, and not by French civil servants.

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Emmanuel Goldstein is the pseudonym of a political drifter on the fringes of English classical liberal and Euro-sceptic activity. He is a former member of the Labour Party, who knows Blair and some of his closest buddies better than they realise, yet. He has a challenging job in the real world, working for a profit-making private company and not sponging off the taxpayer in politics, journalism or the civil service. "Airstrip One," appears Mondays at

So is there some agenda in this? It is undoubted that the media have inflamed passions, and it is unusual for the media – especially left-wing outlets like the BBC and the Daily Express – to raise racial tension. Maybe they are reporting on the public mood, although I would say that they are perhaps ahead of public opinion (especially the slavishly pro-Labour Express, which talks of nothing but asylum seekers). Maybe there has been an anti-immigration turn of heart in the left-wing media – but I gravely doubt it.

Enter the Schengen agreement, now incorporated into the European Treaty of Amsterdam. This charming piece of legislation has the aim of letting citizens of one country freely roam around the territory of another. Simple, you might think, dismantle border posts between the contracting parties and make sure you do not sign agreements with anyone who has a habit of letting drug runners through. One forgets that this is Europe, where complexity is the nearest thing our rulers have to a heartfelt religion. The Schengen Treaty is intrusive. It tells a country what policies it's entitled to have on firearms, asylum seekers and narcotics. In addition, ID cards are strongly encouraged. Obviously, the French ambassador approved of our laws on guns and drugs.

I am not saying that the immigration mess is purely a media storm. There are problems in the present pattern of immigration, which has been encouraged by large direct and indirect payments. To use the words of a Labour MP, we are importing poverty. This may be good news for large employers of unskilled labour, but there are better uses of taxpayers money. However, there is no reason why Britain can't deal with this problem on its own – and accept immigrants on its own terms after a national debate. It is humiliating to see the Home Secretary of the world's fourth biggest economy begging the French for some relief from their antisocial practices. As a nation state, we can get a grip on the judges. We can decide to divert our money to other uses. As a democracy, we must decide for ourselves just what sort of immigration we are comfortable with. Some decisions are best not left to the French and Germans, or even judges.

Post Script

I tend to write these columns a couple of days before I post them. Maybe I'm being topical, perhaps I'm leaving it to the last minute. Usually this doesn't matter, as the state of affairs on any given non-Sports subject on a Saturday usually stays constant until Monday (or Tuesday for my e-mail subscribers). Sometimes it doesn't. Usually it is a minor detail and I can ignore it, but two major developments have occurred this Sunday. Firstly, the Liberal Democrats, who are merely a kite-flying operation for New Labour, called on the European Union to standardise asylum procedure. This was backed by the union leader, Bill Morris, who has often taken up the role as a licensed critic of New Labour.

On the same day, David Blunkett, our Home Secretary, has written an article where he has said that he was seeking "collaboration on wider border controls and trafficking" with the French. This is going to move fast.

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