Rob is a member of the House of Commons Transport Committee and Chairman of Parliament’s Freight Transport Group.
From the Maginot Line to Donald Trump’s contentious plans for the US border with Mexico to the Great Wall of Calais, people always find ways to go over, under, round or through any such construction. The problems in Calais are not about access; they are caused by the treatment of pitiful hordes of desperate refugees caught up in a shameful international game of pass-the-parcel. They are the victims in a criminal game of avoiding responsibility by governments from Athens, to Rome to Paris and London. They are not alone. The people of Calais suffer the daily misery of having “the jungle” on their doorsteps. British commercial and tourist drivers are assailed by a problem so far from their own making and impossible for them to alleviate.
Within days, work will start on this £2 million construction (paid for by British taxpayers) which will not solve the problem and will almost certainly make it worse for all concerned. The logic of building such a wall presupposes that it will deter would-be migrants from attempting the potentially lethal journey to this country, stowing away on British vehicles. Does anyone seriously think that people who have scraped together outrageous sums to pay the people traffickers and have made journeys of horrendous danger to reach these shores will simply turn around and go elsewhere once it is built? Having visited the site I can say with utmost certainty that they will not. The refugees I met in Calais are desperate to an extent that no amount of risk to their lives is going to deflect them from their determination to reach Britain.
What will happen is that the refugees will simply try to get on board vehicles further away from the port. The geographical area requiring massive expenditure on security will grow and suck in yet more resources. Police will play an impossible game of cat-and-mouse across a great swathe of the French countryside (residents of poorer areas of Nice and Marseilles must marvel at the number of police uniforms concentrated on Calais and denied to them as a result). The people traffickers will put up their prices tenfold, claiming that the wall makes it harder and more expensive to successfully cross the Channel. Drivers will still be at risk as will refugees. The contractors will make their money and the traffickers will increase theirs. Everyone else will lose.
The wall is about buying time for the French and British governments. It is about being seen to be doing something while ignoring the root causes. The French are shutting their eyes to the problem, saving money by offering shopping bags of food rather than properly housing and processing the migrants. In the long term, solving the problems of those countries from which the people come will be the only answer. While such solutions are so far from anyone’s grasp, there must be a policy of tough love towards the migrants. The unwilling governments of the Mediterranean must be persuaded to deal with the influx of people where they land and not simply passing them on to their neighbours. The camp, which makes such an unpalatable home to all living there, must come down. Only a strong approach will have any hope of deterring people from coming – and in so doing keep them from the clutches of the criminals who promise them a route to Britain. It is tough love, but it is the only way.
1900 years ago, Emperor Hadrian built a wall. One of the most expensive structures ever erected by Rome, it was meant to keep the “barbarians” (with apologies to all from Scotland – the emperor’s words not mine) out of imperial lands. Within forty years it had been abandoned because it did not work. The uselessness of the Great Wall of Calais will become clear rather more quickly than that. We can only ponder how many lives and livelihoods it will blight before that realisation dawns on its builders.
(The views and opinions expressed by the authors of these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Freight Transport Association)