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Tough? It's just a show

The Conservative conference went into overdrive as government ministers vied with each other to be seen as tough on immigration. But all that mattered to them was the being seen part. Actually being tough is beyond them.

Witness the fact that – according to Home Office data – more than 45,755 people came to Britain illegally on small boats in 2022. How can that happen when the country has military satellites in the sky that can track objects the size of a football, and drones that can identify cars in distant countries?

Meanwhile, opposition leader Keir Starmer said that under a Labour government Britain would negotiate with the European Union about taking asylum seekers from the EU in return for agreement on returning illegal immigrants.

As with most politicians’ promises, it’s hard to pin down exactly what that would mean. One thing is sure, though: it would mean more people entering Britain from the EU.

In 2022 more than 800,000 people applied for asylum in the EU. By the end of July 2023 almost 700,000 applications were awaiting a first decision, up more than a third on July 2022.

That’s a vast pool of people, and by any normal calculation a deal with the EU on returning illegal immigrants in return for taking asylum seekers would increase net migration into the country. What might happen in practice? Who knows?

• See also Why the employers love rising immigration