Friday, 25 March 2016

Put the fences up!

UKIP and the Brexiters have been very adept at conflating the migrant crisis in Europe with the issue of Britain's membership of the EU. Once the floodgates are open at Europe's outer borders, so the argument goes, Britain will be swamped by all sorts of folk from far flung countries.

Whilst this line of argument conveniently overlooks the fact that neither migrants nor asylum seekers (and these are two different groups indeed) won't be able to move about within Europe at will since they have no European Passport and can't gain entry to the UK unless they become citizens of a European country, it obviously resonates with many who feel frightened and worried about unchecked emigration. That moving around in Europe is easier said then done for migrants and asylum seekers does not matter much to the UKIPers.

Within this wildly distorted debate about Europe and migration, it may be useful to reflect on a similar episode in English history that fostered xenophobia and led to calls to uphold border controls. Here is Nicholas Fuller MP on the 'madness to tear down borders' between Scotland and England in 1607:

'One man is owner of two pastures, with one hedge to divide them: the one pasture bare, the other fertile and good. A wise owner will not pull down the hedge quite, but make gates and let them in and out ... if he do, the cattle rush in multitudes and much against their will return ...' (Davies, p.553)

Fuller's intervention proved decisive. The English parliament refused to approve the Instrument of the Union between Scotland and England for another hundred years.

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