SARAH VINE: Emmanuel Macron’s hatred of Brexit has blinded him to the unfolding human catastrophe
Over the past few weeks I’ve watched the migrant crisis deepen with a growing sense of foreboding.
The spectre of tragedy looms over every overloaded dinghy, every bewildered, wide-eyed child disembarking on a British beach.
And now, with grim inevitability, it has happened. The unforgiving seas have claimed their price.
At least one girl and five women drowned, a group of 31 in all – possibly more.
We don’t yet know precisely and, given the chaotic nature of the trafficker boats, may never. Tragic casualties of a situation that no one seems able to resolve.
Some might say this was an accident waiting to happen. But the truth is this is no accident.
This tragedy has come to pass not because of some unforeseen misfortune, some mysterious twist of fate, but as a direct result of spectacular incompetence on the part of politicians on both sides of the Channel. And it is utterly shameful.
Of course many will feel that those chiefly to blame are the people smugglers who direct this one-way traffic of human cargo, and perhaps also those who opt to pay for a passage.
Indeed, no doubt this will become the political mantra over the next couple of days as the various parties involved seek to distance themselves from this catastrophe.
SARAH VINE: The human cost of this situation seems to matter far less to the French president than his own reputation within European political circles as the scourge of Boris Johnson (Pictured: President Emmanuel Macron)
SARAH VINE: There is really only one viable option here. Politicians on both sides are going to have to set aside their egos and for once do what’s right – not what suits them or their poll ratings (Pictured: British PM Boris Johnson)
But desperate people will always do desperate things and many of these migrants are willing to risk their lives to be here.
That in itself, if you ask me, is a measure of what they have already endured.
And criminals will operate with impunity if you let them, which is exactly what’s been happening for the past weeks and months as both the gangs and the migrants themselves have realised that the various grandees responsible for resolving this crisis have been too busy arguing and posturing to do anything concrete to stop them.
No wonder the numbers crossing have been steadily increasing instead of tailing off, as they normally do, when winter sets in.
More than 25,000 have arrived this year so far – three times the number in 2020. It’s a free-for-all. There is nothing and no one to deter them, or even trying to.
The beaches of northern France are patrolled by police who seem to do nothing but stand around watching, sucking on cigarettes and shrugging their shoulders as the overloaded dinghies set sail, either impervious to or uninterested in the plight of those aboard.
This despite the tens of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money being diverted to French coffers to help patrol the coastline.
Where, if it’s not too impertinent a question, has that cash gone? New curtains for the Elysee Palace? A bung for Mr Macron’s mates in Brussels?
Because it’s certainly not gone where it was intended.
One thing, however, is abundantly clear.
The human cost of this situation seems to matter far less to the French president than his own reputation within European political circles as the scourge of Boris Johnson.
The truth is, it wouldn’t take a huge effort on the part of France to start turning back this tide of human misery.
After all, they are the ones on the ground, they have the local knowledge – and we are happy to pay for the manpower, as we’ve already demonstrated.
But Macron won’t because he sees this situation as the perfect stick with which to beat post-Brexit Britain, to punish the Government politically for failing to stem the flow of immigration despite, nominally at least, having fought hard to ‘take back control’ of the borders.
SARAH VINE: This tragedy has come to pass not because of some unforeseen misfortune, some mysterious twist of fate, but as a direct result of spectacular incompetence on the part of politicians on both sides of the Channel. And it is utterly shameful (file photo of migrants in dinghy)
The most important thing as far as Macron is concerned is that Brexit is seen to have been a failure; one can’t help thinking this objective has made him blind to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on his own doorstep.
As for the Home Secretary Priti Patel, for all her bluster and promises, her hands are tied.
Despite tough rhetoric and the training of border patrol officers on jet-skis to intercept boats, the realities of turning migrants back to France are far more complex than it would seem on the surface – not least from a legal and human rights standpoint.
For example, were a Border Force vessel to be implicated in the sinking of a migrant boat, or even a death, they could be criminally liable.
How many officials are going to want to take that risk? And frankly, why should they? Besides, what politician could survive the optics of sending exhausted boatloads back out into the freezing ocean to risk their lives a second time?
There is really only one viable option here. Politicians on both sides are going to have to set aside their egos and for once do what’s right – not what suits them or their poll ratings.
An agreement must be reached. Before the sea claims any more souls for its own.