Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has come under heavy criticism for referring to immigrants crossing the Channel in small boats as an ‘invasion of our southern coast’. It was ‘incendiary language,’ said Labour frontbencher Lucy Powell, ‘far-right and inflammatory rhetoric,’ according to Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard.
Some are concerned that this was the language of extremism entering mainstream political debate. It’s a sign of how far we have drifted to the right since in post-Brexit Britain. On LBC, James O’Brien wondered whether we should ‘start using the F-word’.
But, whatever we might think about Braverman, about government policy, about immigration itself, we shouldn’t talk ourselves into believing that this is an unprecedented crisis in our conduct of politics. Because this isn’t new rhetoric. Yes, the far right have used the same language, but so have many others. For a very long time.
Here are some cuttings from newspapers in the first term of Tony Blair’s government, starting a quarter of a century ago…
‘Dover is drowning under a tidal wave of gipsies from Slovakia – milking our social security system after cheating their way into Britain. Five hundred spongers, lured by handouts and free homes, have swamped the Kent port – and the arrival of every ferry brings the prospect of more.’ – Sun 25 September 1997
‘The opportunity has been seized by the far-right who have descended on Dover circulating leaflets saying: “Dover In Crisis. Invasion Alert”.’ – Independent 15 November 1997
‘Bogus asylum seekers are swamping the Channel ports.’ – Garry Bushell, Sun 30 September 1998
‘What can Britain do to halt the flood of East European immigrants?’ – Daily Mail October 1998
‘Ports alert for gypsy invasion’ – Sunday Times headline, 13 December 1998
‘Several hundred Roma arrived at Dover in the following months, and more arrived in October 1998, stoking fears of a large-scale gypsy invasion. British ministers appeared on Czech television, telling Roma that they would not be welcome.’ – Independent on Sunday 18 July 1999
‘The latest wave of illegal Albanian immigrants was preparing to launch a cross-Channel invasion from a squalid makeshift campsite in a Calais park.’ – Sun 18 August 1999
‘More people moved to Britain last year than in any other single year in history. The 460,000 who arrived in 1998 surpasses the number who have come at any time before through invasion, two World Wars and social upheaval in Europe.’ – Daily Mirror 1 September 1999
‘Leamington has borne the brunt of the invasion of illegal immigrants into Warwickshire over the past 20 months.’ – Coventry Telegraph 9 September 1999
‘A Kent policeman has compiled a report in which he blames local papers for inflaming tension between asylum seekers and the locals. Rubbish. The papers are merely doing their job, giving vent to public outrage over this invasion.’ – David Mellor, People 27 February 2000
‘Seaside towns have been promised they will be spared an invasion of hundreds of refugees. MPs were worried that a large presence of asylum seekers could affect tourism. But immigration minister Barbara Roche said large numbers would be kept away from the most popular places.’ – Daily Mirror 8 April 2000
‘These illegals are only coming because we’re a soft touch … What really stirs up racist feelings is people’s outrage and frustration at our government’s impotence in the face of a tidal wave of bogus claimants.’ – David Mellor, People 16 April 2000
‘Asylum-seekers are flooding into Glasgow at the rate of 200 each week – and that figure is set to keep on rising. More than 10,000 refugees could be living in the city by the summer as Scotland braces itself for an immigrant invasion.’ – News of the World 28 January 2001
‘The storming of the Chunnel. In wave after wave, they kept coming.’ – Daily Mail headline, 3 September 2001
‘The alarmist reporting that cast asylum seekers as an invading army stampeding through France to overrun our shores has already fed the agendas not only of far right groups but even mainstream parties.’ – Guardian 14 September 2001