Colin Brazier: The RNLI has divided the public opinion

There are people who feel the RNLI are acting, inadvertently, as a pull-factor for migrants

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For the avoidance of any doubt, let’s be clear. If true and as described, events in Hastings last week were lamentable and indefensible. The story of what happened ten days ago has now come to prominence after the RNLI lifeboat charity confirmed that one of its rescue vessels was briefly stopped from launching from its boat-house in Hastings last week.

The RNLI statement came after a call to a radio phone-in show on Thursday by a woman who identified herself as Zoe, who said this:

“There was a group of fishermen, gutting fish on the shore, and as the boat station opened up, we heard the fishermen start shouting things like ‘don’t bring any more of those home, we’re full up’ and ‘that’s why we stopped our donations’, and that kind of really horrible stuff…you could hear the hatred in their voices.”

It’s important to note that the RNLI said that its boat was able to launch, after a delay. It’s not clear how long the boat had to wait, or why it was heading into the English Channel. But, given recent events, the tragic deaths of 27 migrants and the arrival of getting on for 30,000 foreign nationals by sea this year, it may well be that it was heading to intercept a dingy coming from France.

There are people who feel the RNLI are acting, inadvertently, as a pull-factor for migrants – who know that if they reach international waters, our lifeboats will bring them safe to shore. There are those, frustrated at this, who feel the RNLI is effectively complicit with people smuggling. Others still, say the number of call-outs to pick-up migrants is putting an impossible strain on the volunteer lifeboat crews.

Contrary to what some refugee groups insist, these are all legitimate concerns. But the way to express them is not by direct action.

And that’s what this is. Standing in front of a lifeboat is not so very different from standing in front of an ambulance on the M25. The outrageous behaviour of green activists from Insulate Britain – some of whom sought to stop paramedics responding to a 999 call – was rightly seen as undemocratic.

And, if these allegations are true, anyone seeking to stop a lifeboat launching does not deserve to call themselves a democrat either. They have a case, but doing this undermines it.

All that said, the reaction to these allegations tells another story.

Typical was this on Twitter from the singer Billy Bragg, who wrote: “Shocking developments in the ongoing War on Empathy: people angry at the RNLI for rescuing refugees attempt to block the launch of the Hastings lifeboat.”

The former rugby player and BBC presenter Brian Moore told his followers: “This is what Farage, Grimes et al have been trying to action all along. Shameful.”

Well Moore’s right. It is shameful. But not in the way he probably intends. What characters like Bragg and Moore prefer not to confront is the reality of illegal migration. Tens of thousands of mainly young men, predominantly from the Middle East and Africa, who are now waiting for their asylum claims to be processed.

While they wait, a wait that may take years, some of them will assimilate into British society easily. Others won’t - they won't even come close - and they will put further strains on areas where social cohesion is already in retreat.

Neighbourhoods where commentators like Bragg and Moore choose not to live, because they’re sufficiently wealthy not to.

It’s people like my sister in Bradford who, as usual will be living the daily reality of our government’s failure to control illegal migration. How many of those tweeting today about this delayed lifeboat launch, not just Bragg and Moore, but all those who wrap themselves in the comforting duvet of superior moral virtue, really have to deal with the consequences? These people give off a terrible smell. Sanctimony is one way of describing it.