‘Taking back control of our borders’ is a central plank of the government’s Brexit rhetoric. But as the number of migrants crossing the Channel from France and landing in the UK has soared, it’s become obvious the government has done no such thing. Consequently a number of demonstrations by people opposed to the migrant presence have been held in the region. They have been orchestrated by Patriotic Alternative, the group behind events in Skegness in Lincolnshire and Long Eaton in Derbyshire.
Patriotic Alternative organised a demonstration in Lincoln on 22 April. The date – close to St George’s Day – was no doubt thought symbolic and it seems possible the demonstrators also wanted to capitalise on local discontent at the proposal to house migrants on the disused RAF station, RAF Scampton.
This is of serious concern locally, not so much because of the presence of a large group of migrants as the realisation that the Home Office’s decision has not just disrespected the spiritual home of 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the Red Arrows, it has seriously jeopardised a proposed development plan worth £300mn to the local economy.
A numbers game
No sooner had Patriotic Alternative made their plans known than a counter demonstration, organised by Lincolnshire Stand Up to Racism and Lincoln TUSC, was announced. I went along to observe events and to try and get a sense of why people were there and how they felt. To do this, I decided to try and talk to those observing rather than report what was said.
The first thing that struck me was the numbers involved. At most, there were probably no more than 200 people altogether and from the evidence I saw, most of those were there to oppose Patriotic Alternative’s attempt to claim any sort of moral high ground. Many had come from further afield. I saw banners from Sheffield and Derbyshire. At the recent Patriotic Alternative rally in Skegness, it was clear some of those had come from further afield too. These same people seemed to be involved in Lincoln. However you looked at it, the numbers were small and many were from out of the county.
There was a substantial police presence, intended to keep the two groups apart and no doubt mindful of the trouble that had flared up in Knowsley earlier in the year. In this, they succeeded. While the pro-migrant group was allowed to march through the centre of the city, the others were kept away from them. I saw no evidence they had been allowed to march anywhere.
It became clear that many had different reasons for being there. Les from Lincoln was part of the pro-migrant group. She was adamant that the blame for things being as bad as they are lay with the Home Office. She was also glad she had turned up to show her support for the migrants.
Two students from the University of Lincoln were there to show their support for migrants too, but from a different angle. ‘Aspen’ and ‘Ariel’ are trans and Jewish respectively. Both said they felt supported by the university’s open, tolerant and inclusive approach to all but as members of groups that have been the targets of hate speech, they identified with the migrants and wanted to express their solidarity with them.
Ade, another student from Nigeria, had been in Lincoln for two years. She said she had largely been welcomed into the city but had experienced some racism during her time. She was certainly glad that others were expressing their support for those who had arrived in the UK in difficult circumstances.
A kick in the teeth
Lincolnshire voted in huge numbers for Brexit. There is real unhappiness in some quarters about the migrant presence in the county, especially at Scampton and you might think that would bring locals out in droves to voice their frustration about it, especially the loss of significant and important investment – a real kick in the teeth for their hopes for ‘levelling up’ in an area that badly needs it.
That wasn’t evident. No-one seemed particularly bothered. Two gentlemen in wheelchairs, who did not wish to be named, were very concerned though. One was worried about the number of young men he thought would be roaming loose in the district. The other was anxious about the strain a migrant presence would place on already overstretched local health services. He was annoyed at the costs that would be incurred and asked where the money would be coming from.
When I asked what he thought about the money wasted on the PPE scandal, he was unequivocal that the politicians involved should be jailed. Two others, Sue and Mick, were very anxious too about the threats that the migrants posed to the local economy too. All four thought Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the Home Office should be held responsible.
What can be concluded?
There was no evidence that, for all their bellicose and provocative speechmaking, Patriotic Alternative offered much to enthuse people in the city. There wasn’t much evidence either of overt support for the migrants. The Scampton issue didn’t bring people onto the streets. If anything, the strongest opinions I heard showed that people distrusted politicians even more than normal.
Perhaps people are just fed up and want it all to stop.