Chutzpah on global migration from the Foreign Secretary
There were many things that made people’s blood boil about Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s statement that Europe’s social infrastructure was under threat from migrants fleeing war-torn or poverty-stricken countries in Africa and the Middle East, like the scaremongering inflation of the scale of the problem. But the worst aspect of his remarks was the astounding chutzpah of one of the Cabinet’s foremost Euro-sceptics and opponents of overseas aid.
Set aside the fact that Philip Hammond has until now (is it a Damscene conversion, or the point at which he has ‘gone native’ in the Foreign Office?) not shown enormous affection for the European Union’s social infrastructure, this is rich coming from one of the main proponents of a deconstructed EU where the lowest common denominator replaces ‘an ever closer union of peoples’. If the UK was adopting an approach to the Mediterranean boat crisis that wasn’t driven by nimbyism, he might have a point. Europe needs, now more than ever, to work together on solving this crisis, rather than playing a numbers game of seeing how few refugees each country not actually bordering the Mediterranean (or Turkey) can get away with.
And let’s pass over the demand now being made – possibly not by Philip Hammond – that Greece should be increasing its spending on the refugee crisis, before the Government there has even completed the tortured negotiations over cutting its budget to secure a new deal from the EU institutions.
I mentioned rich. Hammond expressed the view that the main driver of the current wave of migration was that Europe (usually described by eurosceptics as an economic basket-case) was clearly better off than Africa (he even seemed to suggest it always would be). Hammond was, in the previous Parliament, known to be one of the main (but unsuccessful) critics of the law that sought to give statutory effect to Britain’s official development assistance target of 0.7% of gross national income. That overseas aid is aimed at ensuring not just that people don’t die of childhood diseases, or malnutrition, but at making countries in the global south economically self-sufficient precisely so that their populations can choose whether to broaden their horizons by foreign travel (Hammond was in Singapore when he made his remarks), rather than be forced to migrate to survive.
Of course, as various NGOs have repeated time and time again, poverty is only one reason why people have put their trust and savings in the unreliable hands of traffickers. Large numbers of the boat people of the Med are risking life and limb to escape the horrors of war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. Solving those problems, while accepting our humanitarian duty not to look the other way, is the right approach. Even Margaret Thatcher’s infamous recasting of the fable of the Good Samaritan accepted that it was his very wealth that allowed him to be charitable. Philip Hammond would probably have encouraged the Good Samaritan to pass by on the other side with extreme prejudice, clutching his wallet to his chest.
And finally, as progressive global justice campaigners have pointed out, if the UK Government wants to equalise the relative wealth of Europe and Africa, it could stop protecting tax havens and go an awful lot further than 0.7% of GNI. Sub-Saharan Africa receives $30bn a year in aid, but loses $192bn in lost tax revenue. Doing more to support tax justice would even produce the funds to pay for the UK to take our share of the refugees who are dying for the chance to get here.