The border closure debate is turning us into bigots
Politicians of all stripes are resorting to ugly tropes about Britain's porous borders
“They’ve already spent four hours cheek-by-jowl in presumably some great petri dish, potentially bringing in Lord-knows-what into our country”. This was a direct quote from former shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry on Sky News today, whose bigoted language seems to be worryingly reflective of the current Covid discourse. Once the preserve of fringe Right-wing groups, we are now seeing politicians of all stripes resorting to ugly tropes about people “surging” in through the UK’s “leaky” borders like “a sieve“.
Inevitably, this xenophobic rhetoric has started trickling down to the general public, with reports of people being “terrified” of contracting Covid simply by standing near those travelling from India. It seems we have reached a precipice.
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But fears that the “Indian variant (is) taking root in the UK” and that the government has “allowed the new variant in” overlook some important details. For one, the benefits of border closures as a means to prevent the ‘Indian variant’ (B.1.617.2) from taking hold in the UK are, at best, debatable. It is worth noting that, according to the WHO, the variant is currently present in 31 countries, including Australia which, infamously, has some of the strictest border controls in the world (it recently announced that it would imprison anyone attempting to return from India or face a $66,000 fine).
Others attribute the comparatively higher number of cases of B.1.617.2 in the UK as an example of its ‘leaky borders’. But even this is an unfair assessment given that the UK has some of the most extensive genomics sequencing in the world — sharing nearly as many sequences to GSAID as the US. Britain finds more cases because it is in a position to do so. That’s why we also knew that the first case of B.1.617.2 was sequenced on the 18th March — long before any discussion of the ‘Indian’ variant had properly taken hold.
If the UK was to implement border closures and, like Australia, keep them shut until 2022, it could have a hugely detrimental impact. It will decimate the travel industry, split families apart, prevent people commuting for education or work, and maybe most significantly, prevent the UK from taking its place as a member of a global society. It is no wonder that the EU this week announced new guidance aimed at opening up its borders.
Considering that the evidence to date shows that vaccines are effective against B.1.617.2, this fixation on borders is misplaced. For as long as Covid exists, there will always be a risk of new variants reaching our shores. We must make peace with this fact, and as Chris Whitty has stated, learn to live with Covid. If we do not, Britain is at risk of getting left behind.
Wanting strong border controls does not make one some xenophobic racist so unless the author can somehow read all our minds I’d suggest she stops making insulting and unwarranted assumptions.
Though interesting considered wrong to attribute virus original country but ok to name the country of its variant. Possibly because large population here don’t like that country and are in an argument over its border?
I yam afraid it does when you use rhetoric like that used by Thornberry. Xenophobia is based on a fear of the ‘other’ and the locking of the border plays to that constituency.
Border closures and other authoritarian gestures in the forlorn hope of trying to control a respiratory virus.
I am sorry if you feel insulted but sometimes you need to hold the mirror up to yourself
Do you understand that the preservation of homeland is the preservation of the people; and the loss of homeland brings the loss of the people?
Australia and New Zealand have dome so and it seems pretty effective. No one will accuse ~ Saint Jacinda f xenophobia.
They closed their borders very early. Good or bad idea, it’s far too late for Britain to do so now. The disease, including the “Indian variant” is here and widespread. Controlling the border for this reason is pointless, as well as very damaging to families and business.
Maybe her remarks are just another ‘Anti Boris, Brexit’ shot that so many remainers throw around.
Why is it important that the neoliberal rush to dissolve away our nation and native kind be maintained? Since when was neoliberalism more important than this land and its children?
I think you mis-use Neo-Liberalism, and meant modern-Liberalism, which is based on the Frankfurt School 11 points of Globalism, finding racism in everything Western, and teaching loathing of the Western traditional culture, and everything causing the destruction of family and Nation, and unity in society.
“Neoliberalism is a policy model that encompasses both politics and economics and seeks to transfer the control of economic factors from the public sector to the private sector.”
This is hardly the article above, whose stated goal is Globalism, which is transferring the power of all to a global rule, and the opposite of Neo-Liberalsim: “and maybe most significantly, prevent the UK from taking its place as a member of a global society.”
Neoliberalism, or economism, is a system of reduction of everything to its economic value. In that regard it is universalistic, although it is typically associated with the modern Conservative Party here and parties of the right elsewhere which, nominally at least, champion the cause of the individual. The point here is that the individual must manifest solely as a rational economic actor for whom human wholeness is not even a possible thought. What has no economic value does not exist for him. So nation, kinship, belonging, love, the nature in Man and so forth … these things which give human scale and meaning to our existence do not appear in the neoliberal world. Nothing in him rises above the level of the wage slave and compliant consumer.
Future elections, Labour jettisons 300,000 potential Jewish votes
for 2million muslim &BME votes?
Couldn’t agree more. This fear of new variants is ill informed nonsense. WHO said a few weeks ago that over 6000 known variants already exist, with a caveat that they would be surprised if we have found more than 1% of those in existence. Maybe ‘flu will mutate into a variant more deadly than the 1918 disease which killed 50 million plus, maybe we should just stop going out.
It is also amusing that a Labour party that has opposed any restriction on illegal immigration for years should now want all legal migration stopped (presumably the illegal variety will continue). Maybe those wanting to go to France should sneak over at night in an inflatable boat? Coming back this way they could dodge quarantine too.
The Labour Party has not ‘opposed any restriction on illegal immigration’ – it has proposed the introduction of easier routes for legal immigration and asylum claims. This is not about immigration – it’s about having sensible arrangements at points of entry to prevent importing cases of virus.
Amazing that politicians on the left are saying this now… Trump said it a year ago and was globally denounced by people just like Emily thornberry.
Trump said it in 2017 before the virus even existed.
Want to protect your country from illegal immigrants?
Your a racist!
I wonder why people now despise the left?
What an appalling article, summed by this piece of idiocy:
“and maybe most significantly, prevent the UK from taking its place as a member of a global society.”
Can you imagine anything more puerile?
“maybe most significantly, prevent the UK from taking its place as a member of a global society.”
One can but hope.
Another pile of Woke Joke garbage. Wanting to control the borders is part of a nation. No nation is obligated to allow everyone in.
“Emily Thornberry on Sky News today, whose bigoted language seems to be worryingly reflective of the current Covid discourse.”
Your above line in the article is gratuitous muck throwing. It is you who are the bigot, Amy. I am 100% against lockdown, and shutting borders much is wrong – but you have to bring racism into it? You are a student of ‘Philosophy & Bioethics’?
Stick to the science I would say – but you are a Liberal academic too, apparently, and so the very last one who should have ‘Ethics’ in your title as Liberalism, as we know it today, is an ideology of hate, as far as I can see by its works. (If I am allowed to say the kind of thing you said)
the language was vile and despicable for someone who would describe themself of the progressive left
On the contrary have we not come to expect such language from “progressives”?
Only when it relates to jews, that racism is fine
There’s a difference between wanting to control immigration, and wanting to close borders, to stop a virus. I’m happy for the “right” people to come to the UK if they’re good for society, either as immigrants or visitors. We are not a hermit nation. The UK needs foreigners, for their tourism dollars, as students, for their skills, and because of family connections. Some people may take a different view.
The above distinction has no bearing on the government’ s border controls to try to prevent the spread of a respiratory virus. The virus is endemic in the UK. You may as well have a peeing section in a swimming pool. “Variants” are a complete red herring, beloved by control freaks like Matt Hancock, since the first “Kent” variant appeared in November. As I said then, “variants will be the gift that keeps giving”. Viruses mutate – there have been 335,000 mutations of Coronavirus so far, and counting.
The use of xenophobic language is a worrying development. Demonising foreigners as spreaders of disease is irresponsible, and as old as the Black Death. As for Thornberry, she has much form in the bigoted hypocrite stakes, which she can clearly adapt to any situation.
Nick, do you know that the native British are a dying people, and the cause is population replacement. Covid we can survive. But we cannot survive the Establishment’s race project.
John, I believe in a sensible immigration policy. I’m not in favour of mass immigration, open borders, or any kind of wokeness.
However, I don’t think we should be conflating immigration policy (whatever your stance on it) with the government’s daft, illogical, unworkable and ineffective attempts to stop the spread of a mild respiratory virus.
Given our approaching minoritisation (maybe mid-2050s on present trends), the only sensible policy is repatriation.
85% of the population is white british
No, by the Census of January 2011 it was 87%, but it is closer to 75% today, much less in England.
Well if it means My family are kept safe I will happily stand as a xenophobic racist.
Enough of being tolerant.
This problem stems from the liberal left wing scientifically uneducated like Ms Thornberry.
The following remark has been flagged by lil Mark the so so “radical” conventionalist:
But it is good and necessary, indeed, life-preserving for any people of the land to reject colonising immigrants.
You do not present a convincing argument for justifying weak border controls during a global pandemic. Yes, we know mutations are constantly arising and yes, hopefully, the impact of the B1617.2 variant will be largely controlled by vaccines. However, why are we taking the chance? Are we not entitled to try and preserve the progress we have worked so hard for over the last year? Why would we wish to expend more money, effort and undoubtedly suffering, by failing to control (wherever possible) a new, more transmissible, variant? Whilst it will hopefully kill few people it is/ will impact on lives: those who have to isolate or can’t go to work or to education or take the risk of seeing family. You suggest that just because this variant is in 31 other countries, we should put up with it….Yes, you point to Australia (with far more stringent controls) having cases, but how many? Can I suggest it is vastly less than the number we have in UK & so will be more effectively manage. Uk is densely populated in urban areas & the least economically able, along with those with less better health, will probably bear the brunt of this. I don’t think controlling borders & international travel is going to jeopardise our place in the world. It is more likely to protect it. As for lack of travel splitting families, we have experienced enough of that in UK to wonder why some have been able to avoid restrictions and not be required to take up hotel quarantine? I have no objection if people choose international travel IF there are rigorous quarantine measures in place, which are adhered to & travellers pay the £cost of that, not the rest of us. To suggest those advocating stricter border controls are xenophobic is the prevailing “go to” easy insult. I don’t believe that is fair or, in this case, well argued.
“Yes, you point to Australia (with far more stringent controls) having cases, but how many? “
None, really. The only cases are in our quarantine hotels, brought back by returning Australians. Sometimes a quarantine guard brings it out into the community where it is generally stopped very quickly.
And the policy isn’t racist against Indians – Indian Australians can return to Australia, they just have to go somewhere else (Singapore, Sri Lanka …) on the way back and wait there for two weeks before coming to Australia – a sensible precaution given the situation in India.
Given Australia never really had a problem in the first place, the extremely authoritarian way they have treated their own people throughout this is actually quite shocking. The virus is not going to be eradicated. Australia has given under 14 vaccine doses per 100 people compared to UK’s 87 and Israel’s 122.
So just when is Australia going to join the world again. I would quite like to go back there in 2024, but as things stand that is looking doubtful.
If we are to have a future outside the EU then we need to embrace the 93% of the world’s population that does not live under the tyranny and incompetence of the EU. That does not mean throwing open our borders but it does mean not being closed minded and self obsessed.
People who throw around xenophobic can be described in turn as open-border cosmopolitans or globalists or one-worlders. Take your choice.
Considering We have over 2,500 foreign criminals in our jails costing £120million per year…1million illegals, 8,500 last year alone..Its not surprising the Wokeist Author resorts to rubbish arguments!
I recently discovered that being fully vaccinated make no difference to the assessment of whether you need to self isolate if you are deemed to have come into close contact with someone who has a positive test. If you are told you have been in close contact you are still required by law to self isolate. That means if you go to a pub or a restaurant you could get a call a day or so later immediately screwing up the next 10 days of your life, unless you decide to break the law (as various public figures have routinely throughout the pandemic have).
How does that encourage anyone to be track and traceable or to get vaccinated? I have always avoided the former and achieved the latter as soon as I could for my whole family.
I note Germany has decided it won’t allow UK tourists in. This is despite Germany having a far higher death rate and case rate than UK for the past 3 months, with Germany having far lower testing rates and therefore underestimating its cases. Per capita nearly as many people in Germany have died in the second wave as have died in the second wave in UK. So it is not just UK politicians losing the plot and being pointlessly nasty to play political games.
India – the source of the Indian variant saw a brief surge in cases which peaked 2 weeks ago and it now looks like deaths are peaking exactly as you would expect after cases have peaked. Indian deaths might well be undercounted but they are still less than 1/3 of the UK peak back in Jan on a per capita basis. Obviously the raw numbers that come out of India look scary, but that is because India has a population of 1.3 Bn ie about 20 times that of UK. Yet again politicians and MSM take figures out of context to scare the ill informed witless. They really ought to be doing more scrutiny of their own stupid, counter productive policies, but that would mean taking responsibility for their own incompetence rather than scapegoating others.
Our immigration laws and border controls are too lax. We should restrict immigration to people who can read,write and speak fluent English and have something to offer us, round up and remove al illegal immigrants,end political correctness.
When was a politician ever interested in evidence?
If the author wishes people to read beyond her first cliched pejorative, she’ll need to do better than this. I confess that I am slightly uneasy at the idea of someone with such prejudiced views treating patients.
Like 17 million others, when asked to give my preference in a referendum, my vote was not to be governed by a distant foreign commission. I wonder if my vote would find favour with this doctor. And were my life depending on her, and were I to make a comment that she regarded as racist or xenophobic. I wonder how she might feel?
This is a strange article, particularly since I seem to remember well-argued articles by Ms Jones before. Many commenters have pointed out the many “ugly tropes” in the article, which it is disappointing that she clearly does not recognise that herself – eg referring to a “fixation on borders” in the last paragraph which can only be an attempt to raise emotions in left-inclined readers remembering how leave voters wanted stronger border control. This is sad since the main thrust of the article is one I support – that the risk to the UK from the Indian variant is not a large one so should be dealt with by minor measures and not socially-harmful extreme measures. We in the UK because of our vaccine success can look forward to a resumption of normal life including foreign travel soon – I am very happy about that..
Don’t be so sure. Have you seen the Green list? and don’t forget other countries set their own policies which impact travellers and they can be the ones to change their minds and screw up your well earned break. I thought about booking a short trip to France in August but changed my mind months ago. Not because I was in anyway worried about the virus, but because I did not want to be at the mercy of witless politicians on both sides of the channel.
My hopes that the vaccine would provide a cure to the fear and insanity have yet to be realised, though the signs are extremely positive that it is making a big difference regarding the virus. Last week there were just 10 new admissions to hospital per million with COVID – the lowest figure since the start of the pandemic in UK; France had 79 down from a peak of 169 a month ago.
Good grief – the extraordinary level of unreason on display in this short screed is alarming for someone who purports to hold expertise in a medicine. Shocking. Some relevant observations:
1.) Anyone who equates concern about failures of border control or immigration management with xenophobia is a fool or a bigot.
2.) We seek to control infection spread by locking down our own citizens. We do this to reduce movement of people to lower risk of geographic movement of the virus. Perhaps the doctor here skipped epidemiology to attend Momentum rant sessions?
This is not the quality of stuff people come to Unherd to read. Rubbish like this belongs on the Canary or in the Guardian.
Lockdowns have never featured in epidemiology or pandemic plans. They are a new invention, imported on the hoof from China, and plainly don’t work. Why? Because healthy people don’t spread the virus, so unless you make great efforts to quarantine the sick, it will spread. That said, the disease has mostly spread through health institutions, not the healthy population, anyway.
The main issue here isn’t borders but the utter selfishness of some people who think it is perfectly ok to create numerous transmission points across the breadth of the planet, with the high likelihood of bringing back sars2 and passing it on in communities in which unvaccinated people are present.
Are some people so self obsessed and detached from reality that they think their actions have no consequences whatsoever.
In this respect, Emily Thornberry is absolutely right. Take some god damn responsibility.
Ridiculous. It doesn’t matter where you catch Coronavirus. You can catch it as easily in Bolton as Bangladesh, because it is now endemic in the UK. There is no use in any border controls, and previous pandemic guidelines have never recommended them, as they are pointless. All they do is make ignorant people feel safer. A bit like masks.
How do you account for the levels of infection in Australia or NZ?
It’s never become endemic in those places, because they stamped on it early, and are remote. That said, they’re in a bit of a pickle now, aren’t they? What’s the plan? Hide from a virus with a similar fatality rate to the flu forever? I hope they’re not relying in the vaccines, because I’m not convinced they’ll live up to the hype.
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