Richard North, 11/08/2015  

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A piece that has had eurosceptic pulses racing has appeared on the BBC website, telling of an interview with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond who calmly states that Europe will not be able to preserve its living standards if it has to absorb millions of migrants from Africa.

That much is self-evident, if migrants flood the labour market to the extent that they drive down wages, forcing indigenous workers to drop their rates, working longer for less.

When at the same time we see reports that the world's population will soar to 11 billion by 2100 with half living in Africa - up from 1.2 billion to 5.6 billion by the end of the century – there is every reason to be concerned about the impact of mass migration.

Concern, however, does not equate with agreement on what action to take, but on one thing there should be no disagreement. It is not possible to frame an adequate response without knowing the precise nature of the problem. That, above everything, is the key to any lasting solution.

Nevertheless, there are those who seem almost wilfully to prefer one grand, insoluble muddle. They include the many who insist that refugees are illegal immigrants, even though as asylum seekers they are exempted from prosecution for any breach of immigration laws.

As to our Foreign Secretary, it might not be unreasonable to expect him to be blessed with a greater level of knowledge than that to which mere mortals are privy. Yet not only the BBC but the likes of the Guardian unwittingly attest to a man of great ignorance.

During a visit to Singapore, it was then that Mr Hammond spoke to the BBC. "The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe", he said.

But then, of the situation in Calais, he added: "So long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the tunnel security. We've got to resolve this problem ultimately by being able to return those who are not entitled to claim asylum back to their countries of origin".

"So long as the European Union's laws are the way they are", he then said, "many of them will only have to set foot in Europe to be pretty confident that they will never be returned to their country of origin".

And there it is. The Foreign Secretary is faced with a torrent of asylum seekers, many of whom will have their status as refugees recognised and be permitted to stay in the UK, and he picks on the smaller number who are not entitled to international protection and yet cannot be removed.

Not only that, but Mr Hammond then attributes the problem to "European Union's laws", where the real issue here in invariably the European Convention of human Rights (ECHR). This, as we know, is not EU law.

One wonders, therefore, what Mr Hammond is playing at. In talking to the BBC, he attributes the wrong problem to the wrong cause, and then avoids making any reference to the bigger problem of refugees.

And, by avoiding any focus on the refugees, he doesn't say anything of the granddaddy of all problems, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol – neither of which, of course, can be attributed to EU law. Thus, Mr Hammond has nothing sensible to offer by way of a solution.

Instead, picking up on the inability to return failed asylum seekers to their countries of origin, Hammond described this as "our number one priority". This, he said, was the key to resolving the "crisis" at Calais.

Then, just to prove he knows nothing at all, the Foreign Secretary went on to say more could be done to protect the Channel Tunnel from "illegal migrants" – i.e., potential asylum seekers. For that, he tells us, "We also have to work with our French colleagues to try to deal with the root cause of the problem".

Nowhere though, do we get any inkling from Mr Hammond that he has the first idea of the nature of this "root cause".

For all that, or perhaps because of that, the Guardian senses something close to official panic. Ministers, it says, "feel pressure to make gestures to the press and the public to show they have migration under control".

And that stands to reason. If Mr Hammond really doesn't have a handle on the problem, all he and his colleagues can do is "make gestures". But that gives us the opportunity. While the government builds fences and utters platitudes, we at least know what the "root cause" is. A "no" campaign which is able to offer solutions has a head start.

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