Critical Commentator is The Verdict's new opinion piece column. All views reflected here are that of the author.
Manier savamment une langue, c'est pratiquer une espèce de sorcellerie évocatoire.
(To handle language skilfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.)
- Charles Baudelaire, L'art Romantique
Americans can sometimes be fond of saying ‘if it wasn’t for us, you’d be speaking German’ but what they fail to remember is the British would never learn a second language. However, while the Prime Minister was in France this week, it wasn’t French he was trying to convince us to believe, it was nonsense. Usually, a language only known in fluency by politicians, the civil service, and NHS middle management. The Prime Minister has gone to Paris with the aim of fostering a heightened relationship with President Macron and the French people as well as ‘stopping the boats’.
In an effort to achieve both these aims, Mr Sunak's decided to send the French just shy of 500 million taxpayer pounds to wake the gendarmerie and actually get them and the French border force to do their job. This isn’t a bad deal if it actually works, but the likelihood of that is rather slim.
What do we get for all this money? Well, the Prime Minister let us know by saying: “We’re announcing a new detention centre in northern France, a new command centre bringing our enforcement teams together in one place for the first time, and an extra 500 new officers patrolling French beaches, all underpinned by more drones and other surveillance technologies that will help ramp up the interception rate.” This will see a cross-national task force of British and French officers patrolling and enforcing the new agreement.
Job done by the sounds of it, but it seems like the French are getting a larger slice of this particular cake.
Rishi’s clearly asked the Downing Street cleaners to have a rummage down the back of the sofas or he’s raided the cabinet office petty cash jar for tea and biscuits for the staff. Last I heard we didn’t have any money left, but when it comes to fruitless policies and posturing, the government can always find a little more. When will politicians learn that money, although important, isn’t always the best solution to a problem?
Thirteen years since David Cameron took office, the track record of the Conservative party government is woeful, and while the Labour party would’ve been seismically worse, (mesmerising, I know!) both parties harp on about funding in all areas of public life. HS2, the ‘migrant crisis’, and the NHS don’t suffer from many things, underfunding however isn't one of them. Current channel crossings are costing the taxpayer 7 million a day. The failed and obsolete HS2 has just been given yet another extension and 2 billion quid, and the National Health black hole sucks in 12% of all public expenditure.
I hope I'm proved wrong in my cynicism about this policy direction, but I am not alone in my unenthused anticipation. There was dissent from within the Tory rank and file, as well as reasonable critique from the opposition, in the same way that a blind squirrel from time to time picks up a nut. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home secretary said the Prime minister has “failed to secure a strong enough agreement.” and this seems to be a reasonable critique.
Afterall all, the half a billion pounds gets a new detention centre some more patrolmen and ‘technology’. This unsubstantive non-committal gives both the British and French government room to manoeuvre and ultimately renege on any paper promises forged at the summit. Ms Cooper goes on to say the PM “has failed to get a returns agreement in place and it looks like his planned new law will make it even harder to get that vital agreement with Europe.” Noting that “the border cooperation measures won’t even be in place for several years even though the problem is now.”
Sadly, she seemed to run out of runway in her critique returning to the Labour parties tried and tested method of response to Conservative party policy, suggesting that ‘they haven't gone far enough’ and that ‘we would do better’ without actually saying what they would do, or how they would do it. Ms Cooper actually said, “That’s why we are calling for a new cross border police unit to properly go after the criminal gangs now as well as new agreements on returns and family reunion to prevent dangerous boat crossings.”
Now unless I'm acting like that blind squirrel from earlier, I fail to see any difference in her statement here and the Prime Minster's deal.
Former minister and backbench MP Tim Loughton has said he is "not enthused" by "subsidising the French police force even more". This is a sentiment I share with him, the British taxpayer has been sending money hand over fist to the French state for many years with little to see for it. The lack of detail provided so far in this agreement is concerning, to say the least, yet when more is revealed in the coming days, I may change my tune.
Hopefully we see the two nations speak the same language when it comes to illegal migrant crossings, as Baudelaire says it's an evocative skill, and one we desperately need. Failing that though, perhaps Rishi could give sorcery a go?