I KEEP hearing about our ‘open borders’ and must confess to being confused. The last time I looked there was sea all the way round this little big country of ours, miles and miles of sea.
An open border isn’t possible with sea; an open border is a raised checkpoint where the guard is asleep or has gone off for a cigarette; an open border is a gap in the fence and a big arrow pointing the way.
No, the open borders we hear so much about is more of a metaphor, and a malignant metaphor at that.
If you live on the continent where countries rub up against each other, borders are real and physical things, whether you think they should be open or shut.
An island is a different matter, and an island is what we are, a small island with a long and mostly noble history; a small island that has proved larger than its acres and bigger than its borders.
Those who bitch and grumble about our open borders represent the opposite of what Britain should be, if you ask me. Being an island made us look outwards and sail the seas; being an island shapes who we are and were, from building an empire to then taking it apart.
If you stand on an island you can do two things: turn your back to the world and worry and hate; or look over the seas and wonder. The good side of Britain is that which looks and wonders; the bad side is that which frets and sours itself in resentment and suspicion.
The latest worries arise because a boatload of migrants was discovered in the English Channel at the weekend. The good news is that the 18 Albanians on board, including two children, were rescued from the cruel seas off the Kent coast. Good news part II: two British men involved have been charged with people smuggling.
You could easily use this incident to show that our watery borders work; or you could stir up a storm and a panic about our unprotected 7,000 miles of coastland. Perhaps instead you could get a job on the Daily Mail writing table-thumping headlines – “UK’s open coastline shambles: 4 missed warnings.”
Mostly we should be relieved that those poor people who thought it worth the risk of travelling from Albania, and then crossing a hostile sea in a leaky inflatable boat, escaped with their lives. If we remember them, we escape with our humanity. If all we do is hate and mutter, we forget our humanity.
Perhaps we could do more to patrol our coastlines, but there is a lot of it, and you will never be able to police every beach, bay and inlet. Of course if you were Donald Trump you would build a wall all around the coast: that would sort it.
The Europe referendum is what has turned this from a practical matter into a nasty metaphor. The fear of otherness, of difference lies behind the suspicions of those who claim this country is being overwhelmed and weakened.
Dropping by the in-laws yesterday, I read in the Daily Mail magazine that Joan Collins thinks our country is ‘full’ and that she is urging us to leave Europe. There she was with half a ton of make-up on her 83-year-old face, twittering nastiness and being treated like royalty.
Heavens, I reckon we should close our borders to Joan Collins.
Down the decades, down the centuries, people have crossed our seas and arrived here from around the world, and we would be a smaller country without their presence in our lives.
By all means increase patrols of our watery borders, but do so to protect the vulnerable: those, by the way, are the impoverished souls shivering in small boats and not people sitting at home and frowning over the headlines.