Who could cheer at thought of putting kids in mortal danger in the English Channel?

By John Niven

Have you ever been in a small boat in a busy part of the English Channel? I have.

Many years ago a friend had a yacht moored down in the Isle of Wight. Now don’t get too excited – this wasn’t some super-player kind of yacht with a swimming pool and helicopter deck. Sadly, it was just a 30ft sailboat with a wee cabin.

One summer day he took us along the south-east coast as far as Dungeness, at the southern mouth of the Channel.

Suddenly we were pretty close to the shipping lanes: the huge ferries going back and forth, the massive container ships and oil tankers. It was like looking at a busy motorway from a distance.

“Right, better get back now,” he said, as he turned us around, getting everyone to help with the rigging, with all the stuff you do when you’re sailing. (Well, everyone except me. I stuck to running the bar – and doing a fine job of it too.)

Even at the distance we got to the real action – a couple of miles, I’d guess – you could sense the massive bulk of these ships. How terrifying it would be to have them looming over you, their hulls towering like a block of flats.

And we were grown adults sailing on a fine summer day in a sturdy vessel, with an experienced sailor in control and a cooler full of white wine and sandwiches, the bread nice and cold from the icepacks.

Now imagine you’re right in amongst that shipping traffic in what is basically a big dinghy. Packed to the gills with 40 or 50 people in a space meant for 20 at the most.

And the sea is rough, throwing you up and down, freezing water slopping over the sides, soaking you, making the children (yes, there are children, didn’t I mention that?) scream and cry.

There’s no white wine or sandwiches. In fact, you haven’t eaten properly for days. Because you gave every penny you had to the men who are taking you, the men steering the boat, who keep screaming and shouting at you to be quiet, to shut your kids up.

Somehow, after hours of this, you see the white cliffs of Dover appearing. You’ve made it. And then you see something else – a British gunship approaching. And then its crew is signalling to the men in charge.

A group of migrants arrive via the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) on Dungeness beach on September 7 (Getty)

They’re making them turn around and head back to France.

You barely survived the first crossing and now you’re going to have to go through the whole thing again. You start crying. Your kids start crying.

Well, this is what Priti Patel – the most immoral, unqualified home secretary in British history – wants to happen.

Under Patel’s orders, Border Force staff are being trained to employ “turnaround” tactics at sea that would allow UK officers to force small boats back into French waters.

Thankfully, as with many of Priti Patel’s mad dreams, the whole thing is unlikely to happen for many reasons.

Obviously, as any sailor knows, intercepting boats on open sea is so dangerous that many Border Force Union representatives believe the “turnaround” protocol will never be used.

Kevin Mills, the Border Force rep for PCS union, said: “To use this tactic, you need perfect weather, you need to know there is adequate fuel on the suspected vessel so it can return to France, the vessel would have to be seaworthy, there can’t be any babies or minors on board, every passenger has to be healthy and there can be no chance of loss of life.

"All of which is highly unlikely.”

And it wasn’t just union reps. Conservative MP Tim Loughton also questioned Patel’s idiocy. “It sounds good,” he said, “but I’m afraid in practice it’s just not going to happen.

"These are flimsy boats coming over. Any boat coming up alongside at speed would capsize most of them and then we’re looking at people getting into trouble in the water and drowning… and then we’ll get blamed for that.”

You’ll have noticed Tim thought it “sounded good” and that his only concern was that “we’ll get blamed”.

Well, he’s a Tory MP – being an amoral scumbag is a job requirement.

So why is Patel bothering with all this noise? Mills hit the nail on the head when he said he suspected that the tactic was simply part of a “headline-grabbing exercise”.

Why does Donald Trump continue to talk about non-existent migrant convoys heading for the USA? Because it plays well with
the base.

You’re a decent person. You’re sitting there wondering: “Who is this base? Who on earth would be cheering at the thought of children doubling their chances of drowning in the English Channel?”

My friend, you just haven’t dug into social media enough. I checked the messages to Patel on the subject on Twitter.

There were hundreds – hundreds – of people who think Patel is a bit too soft and cuddly. Who were saying “just let them drown” and “sink a couple of these boats and this is over” and much, much worse.

I had an idea. We round up these folk, pack them into a dinghy with their families and launch them off in the direction of France.

No sandwiches, no white wine, no John manning the bar. Just them, soaking wet and freezing and screaming as a 200,000-ton oil tanker comes right at them.

Then, if they survive, just as Calais comes into view, we say: “OK. Now we’re going again.”

Let’s do it. Get a little empathy going on around here.

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