Somebody asked me about the Channel Tunnel situation a few days before we left. What did I think, were there risks etc. I didn’t think there was really much danger of a migrant jumping in your car. What’s the solution, though? They asked. Let them in, I said. Someone’s knocking at the door, somebody’s ringing the bell. Do me a favour, open the door, and let ‘em in.
What is it, 3,000 or so people? They’ve all suffered enough, and the economic impact of the channel blockade, Operation Stack, and delay after delay must be considerable.
But of course, they won’t let them in. Beef up security. Turn your back on all that abjection, hope it goes away on its own.
I was keeping an eye on the Channel Tunnel Twitter account, keeping abreast of the Operation Stack business. I knew what to expect when we drove down in the middle of the night on Wednesday/Thursday. These summer journeys are always hard. Closed junctions, diversions, roadworks. And that’s before you even get to the M20 and the lorry park on the southbound carriageway. The bit where the M1 joins the M25: closed. The bit where the M25 joins the M20: closed.
Deep breaths. Zen and the Art of Arriving Eventually.
The matrix signs were not helpful. I was aware there was a diversion in place from J8, but the matrix signs offered contradictory advice. Use the M2, go this way, go that way. In the end, it was better just to reach J8 and follow the diversion. Google was aware.
We arrived, checked in. Didn’t seem to busy, at three in the morning. We had a bacon roll from Starbucks and a coffee, and I went to close my eyes in the car and listen to the Accidental Tech Podcast. Suddenly, our letter was told to proceed. It was over an hour early. We waited a bit to avoid the border control search, savvy travellers that we are, and drove around. Lined up in Lane 16 and waited a bit. Then we were heading round for the train, the car in front wasn’t even faffing too much, and it looked like we’d be leaving an hour ahead of our booked time.
But not. Loaded on the train, we then sat for 90 minutes. Why? Because a migrant had got on top of a train on the French side, and they were ‘undertaking safety checks’. After an hour, they announced we’d be leaving in around 10 minutes. Five minutes later, the on-board staff came around saying we’d be going in about 10 minutes. 20 minutes later, the train lurched.All the way through in the dark, I expected it to come to a shuddering halt.
While you’re waiting there, during the 90 minutes, you’re getting anxious because the worst case is they open up the train again and get you to disembark on the British side. Go around and board again, but later. It had been so quiet when we arrived, though I imagine that by the time we finally departed (30 ironic minutes after our original booked time), the traffic was building up in the terminal.
So this delay, this 90 minutes of anxiety and boredom, was caused by a migrant jumping the fence. You find yourself thinking, they should just let them die, let them be electrocuted, in the tunnel. Don’t delay my crossing!
And so you turn from a compassionate left winger who would open the borders and let the people come and go as they want to a rabid Ukipper, a foam-flecked Tory who wishes people would just die already and not ruin my holiday.
Which maybe explains why more effort is not being made to do something permanent about the situation. Thousands of trucks and tourists face delays this summer, and every single one of them will have to make an iron-willed effort not to blame the migrants. So it’s well played, isn’t it? A minor inconvenience multiplied thousands of times leads to opinion polls in which the British people show a remarkable lack of tolerance, understanding, and compassion. Which in turn drives the political and media agenda, and means that the pro-immigration counter-argument withers and dies. It means that harsh countermeasures, when introduced, are met with an indifferent shrug,
So, yeah, I was mightily pissed off, but my opinion stands: open the door, let ‘em in. Give them somewhere to live, welfare benefits, free NHS treatment and a free education. This is how you export British values to the world.
P.S. After the marathon trip, the remarkable thing for me was that Google discovered an alternative cross-country route for us, taking us on the final stretch from motorway to our village by what seemed like a more direct and less busy route. It felt quicker, anyway.