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Politicians should serve their voters, not “humanity”

Suella Braverman inspecting facilities in Rwanda. Cyril Ndegeya/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The argument is “numbingly familiar”, says Lionel Shriver in The Times. Small boats “bursting” with migrants must be stopped from crossing the Channel because “overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels” put lives at risk; we must stifle the people-smuggling trade because “helpless customers suffer at the hands of unscrupulous criminals”. By this logic, the escalating crisis on the south coast is a “humanitarian” issue at heart. But that’s a load of “disingenuous hooey”. Politicians and commentators merely frame the debate in those terms to disguise a “brass-tacks calculation of British self-interest”, because promoting policies that purely “benefit the people who live here” is routinely spurned as crass.

No one wants migrants to drown. This is a question of competing rights and resources – and national politicians owe their first allegiance not to “humanity” or some “vague vanity” about the goodness of their country’s character, but to the “rudimentary concerns of the citizenry they were elected to protect”. And with 100,000 people entering the country illegally every year, it’s no surprise those citizens consistently list migration as one of their top three concerns. Whether you think Britain should accept more or fewer immigrants, there’s nothing “embarrassing or unseemly” about discussing the situation from the perspective of overt self-interest. Choosing what best benefits the resident population – even “elevating the wellbeing of inhabitants above the wellbeing of outsiders” when these interests conflict – is what governments of democratic nation states are for.