Wednesday, December 1, 2021

HENRY DEEDES on the Home Secretary’s Channel tragedy statement

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Priti Patel was crabby – and who could blame her? The Channel boats crisis that has engulfed her department for months had just become a full-blown humanitarian disaster.

The Home Secretary is hardly one of life’s cuddly bunnies but she had particular exasperated terseness as she answered MPs’ questions yesterday.

She seemed impatient to dispense with parliamentary duties and skedaddle back to the office as quickly as possible. Queries that irked her prompted a round of tongue-clicking, a roll of the eyes, a mutter under the breath.

Most of the time, she was bouncing on to her feet with a sharp reply before her questioner had even shut their mouth.

The Home Secretary (pictured) is hardly one of life's cuddly bunnies but she had particular exasperated terseness as she answered MPs' questions yesterday

The Home Secretary (pictured) is hardly one of life’s cuddly bunnies but she had particular exasperated terseness as she answered MPs’ questions yesterday

She was in the Commons to issue a statement following Wednesday’s tragedy, in which 27 people drowned in a doomed attempt to reach by inflatable boat Britain from France.

While the incident was ‘a dreadful shock,’ said Priti, it ‘was not a surprise’. She didn’t put it in quite these terms but she left the clear impression that she felt the bulk of the responsibility for the disaster lay with the French.

We heard that before arriving, Patel had ‘reached out’ to the French interior minister Gerald Darmanin to try to send British personnel to France to help patrol the coastline.

Judging by her irritated tone at the dispatch box, it had not been a productive call. ‘Non, madame’ was surely the refrain.

Responding for Labour was Nick Thomas-Symonds who seems to have had a bit of a makeover.

The Shadow Home Secretary used to be one of Parliament’s scruffbags, but now: Smart shoes, decent suit, a few pounds lighter at the tummy. Had the spin docs taken him aside for a word?

Priti Patel was in the Commons to issue a statement following Wednesday's tragedy, in which 27 people drowned in a doomed attempt to reach by inflatable boat Britain from France

Priti Patel was in the Commons to issue a statement following Wednesday’s tragedy, in which 27 people drowned in a doomed attempt to reach by inflatable boat Britain from France

Thomas-Symonds did not make trouble for his opposite number. Usually he can’t wait to jump down Priti’s throat and start accusing her of incompetence, ordering her to get a grip and the rest. But the migrant boat crisis is a tricky area for Labour.

Demanding the Government make it easier for migrants to get to Britain would irritate traditional supporters.

On the other hand, insisting that Border Force gets tougher would upset the Hampstead luvvies. It’s an issue Starmer and his team seem happy to duck wherever they can.

Not so the Scot Nats. Martyn Day (Linlithgow) stroked his Captain Birdseye beard and demanded the Government allow more ‘safe routes’ – and forget that this would encourage even more people to come here.

Patel frowned. She found Day’s tone ‘disappointing.’ Perhaps, she hissed, it would be better if he turned up to more debates. He might develop a better grasp of the arguments.

The grey hairs on the Conservative benches demanded Priti show some bite. They wanted more pushback against the boats. They wanted asylum applications processed offshore.

Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough) urged Priti to crack down on the human rights lawyers preventing failed asylum applicants from being deported.

While the incident was 'a dreadful shock,' said Priti, it 'was not a surprise'. She left the clear impression that she felt the bulk of the responsibility for the disaster lay with the French

While the incident was ‘a dreadful shock,’ said Priti, she left the clear impression that she felt the bulk of the responsibility for the disaster lay with the French

As he said this, Labour’s immigration spokesman Bambos Charalambous spluttered and shook his head. Mr Charalambous’s profession before entering politics? Funny, that: Lawyer.

At the rear of the chamber, perusing the minister’s statement with a quizzical air, was a maskless Jeremy Corbyn (Ind, Islington N). He sat alone, isolated from his former colleagues. Having the Labour whip withdrawn has wounded him – and it shows.

For some time, the former leader bobbed up and down trying to catch the eye of Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans.

When eventually called, he urged the Government to concentrate on the true causes of the migrant crisis: poverty, climate change, war. One or two of the old guard on the Labour benches gave their banished ex-leader’s remarks a dutiful ‘hear, hear!’

Towards the end, there was a complaint from Brendan O’Hara (SNP, Argyll) about the coverage of Wednesday’s tragedy by the BBC. Those who perished were referred to as ‘migrants’ on the News at Ten.

‘Migrants don’t drown,’ O’Hara declared. ‘People drown!’ He asked Patel to have a word with the Beeb about its language.

Priti agreed, not entirely convincingly. But then there are more pressing issues currently at the top of her intray.

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