It was a scandal, she said; it was going to be damaging for race relations; and what, she wanted to know, was I doing about it? She was a barrister, she added, as if I wasn’t already apprehensive enough. As every politician knows, you cannot possibly hope to win in a position like this — the whole crowd listening as some well-spoken and well-educated woman decides to give you what for – and especially if she is armed with a lethal-looking glass of sangria.
“Er, I haven’t actually seen the posters,” I ventured, which was true — though I had been made vaguely aware of the controversy. That wasn’t good enough, she snapped. I should be speaking out, she said, witheringly, and so on and so forth. After about 10 rounds of pummelling, I was able to escape by promising to have a look at the offending propaganda, and to make up my own mind.
Well, I have — or at least, I have studied them online. The tone is certainly blunt. The message is uncompromising. “Go home or face arrest,” says the Home Office to illegal immigrants, in words that have even offended the tender sensibilities of Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip.
I suppose it could have been more gently drafted. How about: “Illegal immigrant? Worried about being arrested? Need help getting home? We can help! Just text HOME to 78070 and we will act as your personal travel agent.” That might have at least sounded a bit friendlier — but I wonder whether it would have appeased my angry friend with the sangria. As far as I could tell, she objected to the whole concept of urging illegal immigrants to do the right thing.
She seemed to think it wrong and downright racist even to point out that they were breaking the law. On that point I am afraid I have to disagree. Illegal immigrants have every opportunity to make their case to remain in Britain, and we have courts full of eloquent lefty lawyers — like, I very much suspect, my sangria-charged friend — taking prodigious sums of taxpayers’ money to vindicate the human rights of their clients.
Such is the ingenuity of these lawyers that all government strategies to deal with these illegals have so far failed. Indeed, we already have a de facto amnesty for all illegal immigrants who have been able to stay here for a long time. Ask the Home Office how many illegal immigrants have been deported, after being here for more than 10 years. The number is tiny. For most hard-working and otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants there is virtually no chance that they will be deported — and yet they cannot pay tax, cannot take part in the legal economy, and certainly cannot run for their country.
It is certainly not racist to point out this absurdity, since illegals come from all ethnic groups. It is not anti-immigrant to point this out, since illegals make a nonsense of the efforts of other immigrants to do the right thing and secure leave to remain. One way or another illegals need to regularise their position, and preferably to pay taxes like everyone else.
This poster campaign is unlikely, in itself, to solve the problem that expanded so massively under the last Labour government. But you surely can’t blame the Coalition for trying to enforce the law.